For most of us, conflict is a time of stress and emotional intensity, when we are keenly aware of the possibility of loss – whether of an important relationship, a business contract, or standing and reputation in the community.
Many people avoid conflict at all costs, compromising what matters to them to maintain relationships. We might be reluctant to even bring up a difficult issue with a co-worker or family member. When we finally speak up, anxiety is high.
Or, we might have conflict thrust upon us. A neighbour threatens to sue us over a fallen tree, a damaged fence. Charitable organisations struggle to navigate between staff, management and Board of Directors. Decisions over repairs and maintenance split the church or the co-op in half – but these seemingly financial issues often cover up deeper disagreements over differing values and visions for the community. In businesses and organisations, latent conflict that is never spoken about can result in low morale, high staff turnover and loss of productivity.
A mediator can help families, teams and organisations have these difficult conversations in a way that is safe, empowering and leads to positive outcomes that uniquely fit the participants and their particular situation.
The hospitable space of mediation makes room for both the heart and the head. The participants and everything they bring – issues, concerns, emotions, reservations, the need for safety – are welcomed, acknowledged and given a place at the table. The mediator encourages and empowers the participants to both speak and listen; to clarify expectations, verify assumptions, exchange information and ask questions.
Step by step, the atmosphere shifts to one of open communications and listening. Together, the participants enlarge the picture of themselves, what matters to them and their situation. They begin thinking together and generating options that will work for both (or all) of them. The mediator helps by acting as a sounding board, communication coach, agent of curiosity. S/he asks clarifying questions, tracks progress on issues, and cheerleads the participants every step of the way.
Mediation can be used alone or in conjunction with legal processes. Depending on the nature of the dispute, parties can decide to bring their own lawyers, or retain a lawyer to advise the table as a whole. Often, the addition of mediation to more formal processes helps save time, creates solutions that uniquely fit the participants, and leads to increased understanding, reconciliation and restored relationships.