Whatever it Takes (Balloons): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boq8-dgTIOI
Aug 2011 12

There is a lot of fighting among mediators (nobody can fight like mediators!) as to what is “the” correct way to mediate.

Should you be directive, and tell clients what will probably happen in court anyway, and then muscle them into agreement?

Should you be facilitative, and let them have a free flowing discussion?

Should you be transformative, and guide the participants to a new level of understanding of their situation and role in the process?

Or all three?  How do you mediate for success?

I’ve never really tried to shoehorn Peace Talks or myself into a particular category. My style is that if participants are having a great discussion, it’s my job to get out of the way. If they need a nudge in the right direction, it’s my job to make a suggestion.

The process is designed around them, not just our Peace Talks Mediator Handbook.

I got a surprise, though, when a very nice set of clients came in a couple of months ago. They were amicable; they’d been married a long time and just wanted to be fair with each other.  We see that a lot at Peace Talks:  really nice people having the worst day of their life and just trying to do the right thing.

Where this case became different, though, is when the husband decided he needed to take a break from the proceedings and he laid down on the floor. Not to be derailed, I got him a blanket.

When he woke up (I’m pretty sure he fell asleep) he knew that what he needed to do to keep himself calm was to……blow up balloons and bat them around the room.

That was a first for me. And I thought in 23 years I’d seen it all. Maybe now I’ve seen it all, but who knows?

And I learned something that day, as I batted balloons around with him, my co-mediator (a very patient Stephanie Maloney, CDFA) and even his wife, who was also rolling with the punches.

I learned that:

  • Mediators need to be ready to do whatever it takes to help people settle a case, even if it’s outside their comfort zone
  • Mediators need to embrace participants who know what they need and aren’t too shy to ask for it.  We need to listen and let clients do what they need to do (within reason, of course)
  • Mediators need to loosen up their ideas of “the” right way to do mediation and adapt to the participants’ needs.

Of course, if the balloons and nap had made the wife uncomfortable we may have needed to take different action. But since it didn’t, we needed to step outside our own comfort zone and adapt to what the participants’ needed.

It’s not about us, it’s about them.

And they settled.

And yes,  got their permission to share their story in a confidential way.

Not sure you believe me? Watch the video!

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