Do You remember the conversation between the disoriented Alice and the mysterious Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s tale, Alice in Wonderland?
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where–” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. “-so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
In almost every mediation I have conducted the first step is to get both parties to understand the features of the mediation process. It is voluntary. It is confidential. It is flexible. My role is to lead a conversation among parties, resulting in a settlement acceptable to all. To be honest, sometimes guiding that conversation can feel like navigating Alice’s Wonderland.
Early in the mediation, confusion, anger, and emotions often run high. No surprise, of course, as that is what conflict creates. It is important to let the parties express their emotions. Only after that happens can the task of finding common ground begins.
Finding that common ground begins by helping the parties discover their goals. Why are they “really” in conflict and what is the impact conflict is having on them and their lives? Although not often expressed early in the conversation, “getting one with my life”, often becomes the goal upon which to focus. Focusing on a set of goals will move the mediation along. Unlike Alice, who wanders and wonders where to go, goal-oriented mediation can help the parties get to a better, although not perfect, place.
Simply asking what your situation would be like if this issue was settled can move the needle. Dwelling on the past simply avoids thinking about the future and, more importantly, figuring out how to get there. Mediation can create the roadmap and the first steps in getting there. It is very powerful. The power of mediation is that it encourages creativity in finding common ground.
Speaking of creativity you may recall my last column, “One Scoop or None.” Long story short, my grandkids wanted 2 scoops from the upscale local ice cream place in Easton. Cost being a concern, I explained that one scoop from this store tasted so good that it was worth 2 scoops from the place around the block. The option was one scoop or none. They took the one-scoop option. Story over. Well, not quite. The next day, a delegation approached me with the idea that they wanted to try the ice cream from the other, less expensive vendor…and of course, the ration would be 2 scoops following my earlier logic. Hoisted by my own petard!
Steve Forrer, the former dean, and vice-chancellor of the 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 mediation.
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