Feb 2012 21

I’ve been a full time mediator for over 12 years.

At some point, you become experienced enough in your profession that you don’t have to think about what you’re doing, or about following the rules.  You just know what to do, and you follow the rules without even thinking.

But recently I’ve found that breaking some of the rules actually works better.  I’ve been going out on a limb and it’s been working.

There are 2 keys to this “technique” (or non technique!) working:

1)  Ask for permission first. Once you get permission, people will let you do almost anything.

Example:  “I’d like to go out on a limb with what I say next, but I’m worried it may sound a little off-the-wall. Would it be okay if I go ahead and say what I’ve got in mind?”

Once you get a “yes,” you can say whatever you’d like.  Contrasted with not getting permission first—you risk offending people by not asking first.

2) If you’re deviating from your usual mediation process, make sure both parties are in agreement that it’s okay if you do things differently.

Example:  We recently had a case where I knew that if I didn’t bond with the husband in a more concrete way than you can do in a joint session in a mediation room that the case would be sunk.  I got the wife’s permission to meet him for coffee, and then a 2nd time for lunch.

I’d never done that before, but I knew that’s what needed to happen.  I was surprised that the wife agreed that this would be okay, but she was at the end of her rope, so she was probably willing to try anything. Plus this wasn’t at our first session—we all knew each other pretty well by the time I made the request.

At the lunch and coffee appointments, I didn’t talk with the husband about the case. I just found out more about who he is and his value system. I asked him about himself.  There was no pressure to talk about mediation or settlement.  I just used it as bonding time for us.

And it worked.

So I’d encourage you to go out on a limb, too, especially when your mediators’ toolbox seems to be empty and you can’t think of what to do next.

Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post

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