By Patricia Barrett, CFP CDFA Mediator
As you enter the planning stage of mediation, you still incorporate these principles, generating ideas and deciding on a course of action. You will want to generate additional standards and options for solving the problems that have been outlined during the analysis stage.
It is not necessary to establish trust between the negotiating individuals, since an equitable compromise can be reached without trust. It is poor strategy to tell the other party you do not trust them, since this would produce anger and defensiveness. You can mention how “since so many individuals cannot be trusted to be honest, I feel we must verify the figures in the report”. The final agreement will be one that meets needs of both sides (their interests), is independent of one party’s stronger will, and is based on an outside respected standard.
During planning, you establish which objectives are the most important, as well as which are realistic. The relationship of the individuals must be disentangled from the mediations, allowing all concerned to move beyond the past and look toward a mutually advantageous solution to the problems. Often, mediations are sidetracked because of inferences by one party concerning comments made by the other party. You should constantly be bringing the discussion back to the problem and away from the relationships.
Sometimes it is necessary to allow people to let off steam, allowing them to air their feelings and emotions. This is an opportunity to clarify inaccurate perceptions and work to improve communications. However, this is not a time for any decision-making or agreement. Recognize this as people-problems and make no concessions based on conflicts in personalities.
Since people problems can be a maze of confusion, it is helpful to think of them as falling into one of three categories: perceptions, communication (or lack thereof), and emotions. Frequently, perceptions are one-sided, communication is thwarted by poor listening skills, and emotions taint fruitful discussions.
The true mediation is based on what is inside of each person’s mind. The “truth” as each party sees it becomes the problem and can open doors to a solution. The ability to see the problem from the other person’s viewpoint (empathy) is one of the most important skills in mediation.
In order to understand an opposing point of view, a few basic rules can provide help:
Ø Do not assign blame to the other party for the entire problem. This will just place them on the defensive and hamper mediations.
Ø Do not allow suspicions to cloud every comment from the other side. Interpreting their comments negatively will prevent fresh ideas aimed toward an eventual agreement.
Ø Involve the other side in establishing possible solutions so that they have a vested interest in the process. Be sure they participate in the brainstorming. An agreement comes much easier if both are contributing. Encourage both sides to provide possible solutions, giving credit for originality and participation.
Ø Allow face-saving for all parties. No one wants to admit they are wrong. Allow some way to reconcile their stand on the issue with their principles. Sometimes, an agreement or partial agreement can be worded in such a way that they feel like a fair outcome. This is where a “standard” can help in providing a measuring device to which both parties agree.
Ø Discuss out loud any points of mutual concern the two sides may have. For instance, they may both be genuinely concerned about the welfare of their children. Even if it is understood that they agree on some issue, state it in order to have something positive on record.
Ø Discuss and write out the emotions involved in a case. Acknowledge each party’s emotions, whether angry, frightened, nervous, etc. This helps all to accept the existence of emotions and how they can affect the discussions. It is easier to proceed with mediations if parties have a chance to discuss emotions. It may be necessary to listen quietly to a tirade, with the understanding that the other party will also be given a chance to express their emotions. No attacks against the other party should be permitted during this airing of emotions.
Ø Explore the “interests” of the opposing parties, their hopes, fears, needs or wishes that create their side of the mediation. As yourself “why” they hold a position or wish for a certain outcome. Each side will have numerous interests. Write them down as discovered. Look for interests that involve the basic human needs of security and economic well-being, as well as controlling one’s own life. It helps to acknowledge that their interests are a part of the overall problem to be solved.
Ø Communicate your “interests” to the other side. Separate the interests from your desired outcome and specify important concerns. Your goal is to allow the other side to see the situation from your viewpoint, to understand your interests. If you have shown an interest in and have listened to their interests, they will feel like they should reciprocate.