Our grandkids are wonderful, but they are kids. On a recent visit we took them to one of the “high end” ice cream stores in Easton. Translation – Pricey. Since there were 7 of us, I made the prudent financial decision that one scoop would serve everybody well. Upon that restrictive announcement the reaction was, shall we say, a bit over the top. “Unfair! We always get 2 scoops.” At that point I decided this was a “teaching moment.” Either you accept the offer of one scoop or get no scoops at all. “Yes, but our other grandparents always get us 2 scoops!” I held firm. “One scoop of this ice cream tastes so good it is worth two from the average ice cream purveyor.” That intrigued them, and emotion was replaced with the promise of a better state. Reason prevailed, and it helped that the ice cream was really good.
This reminded me of several mediations I have recently conducted. By definition every mediation requires the parties to accept conditions that are not likely their first preference. As a mediator to a conflict, my job is to guide a confidential conversation between parties helping them reach an agreement that is satisfactory to both, albeit not perfect for either. However, when one party starts with “They are not getting one red cent from me” the task can be a challenge. After initial emotion subsides there is an opportunity to understand the goals of each party…and there are often several. As they tell their version of the story hints will emerge as to the issues that need to be resolved.
Is it just about money or is it also about being treated unfairly in their view? Is an apology needed? Was it a matter of poor communication or unmet promises? As the settlement is crafted all these issues can be included. One of the powers of mediation is that it can include a solution that is wide ranging, much more so than a narrow court judgement, for example.
Often parties choose a position that is based on limited or poor information. What do you do if you do not have complete information? You make it up, of course. That is natural, and we do it all the time. When we act on partial or inaccurate information, we make assumptions about the other parties’ motivation and position. The mediation conversation can help complete the information picture and make it more accurate.
Once my grandkids had a more complete picture of the one scoop offer, they understood that it was a decision about quality not quantity. I know what you are thinking…they still wanted 2 scoops…and they probably did. However, they were please with the imperfect result and so was I.
Steve Forrer, former dean and vice chancellor of University of Maryland Global Campus, is currently a mediator for the Maryland District and Circuit Courts. Questions can be submitted at www.doncastermediation.com/contact for Steve to answer in this column. He also accepts private mediations.