October 19, 2011
Choosing To Mediate: Can You Focus On The Big Picture?
When people call my office for a free 15-minute phone consultation, they commonly ask, “Are we good candidates for mediation?” And often my response is: mediation tends to be successful—if we define success as ending in agreement—when the participants have the capacity to focus on the big picture. Whether people are addressing a probate dispute in the wake of the death of a loved one, or restructuring their lives due to divorce, mediation and Collaborative Practice processes encourage participants to stay oriented to their values, to transparently state their goals and reasoning, and to focus on the big picture as defined by the participants.
Other times my response is to ask a further question: Do you value your relationship after the situation is resolved? Are people you love, like children, family, or friends invested in your resolution bringing a measure of peace? Can you dig deep to find value in compromise, in developing a resolution that honors both your and the other participants’ views?
I ask these questions to stimulate a big picture discussion. Below are some further questions to consider in assessing your capacity to stay focused on the big picture:
- Do you have a life-view that places a value on developing peaceful relations with the other participants—that places a value on finding a resolution that you and the other participants can live with? If your define self-interest by how the agreement affects only you—your future cash flow or hours with the kids—then you’re less likely to be able tolerate incorporating the other participants’ views and goals into an agreement. Alternatively, if you define your self-interest broadly, for example, “I benefit by compromising with the other participant as it will help in establishing a more relaxed co-parenting relationship,” then you’re more likely to find a wider range of outcomes acceptable to you.
- Are you able to listen to the other participants’ views no matter how preposterous they may seem to you? This may seem like a simplistic notion to ponder, but much of developing an agreement comes from giving credence to the other participants’ views, so if it’s not possible to respect the other participants’ views, it can be impossible to compromise. Think about whether it’s realistic to expect yourself to sit quietly and listen while the other participants talk about their views.
- Do you already know what your agreement must contain to be acceptable to you?Flexibility and having an open mind make coming to agreement more likely. If you start mediation with rigid notions of “I want my rights,” and such, it’s less likely you’re going to be open to the learning curve in the information gathering phase, which means it’s even less likely you’re going to be open to the creative approach that compromise often necessitates.
- If there is an element in a potential agreement that you do not like, will you be able to focus on the elements of the potential agreement that you do like? If you have a glass half-full type of personality, you’re more likely to be open to a compromise that you can tolerate, rather than get stuck on the part of a potential compromise you don’t like. And consider the flip side of this same idea: if the agreement works well for the other participants, will that be acceptable to you? For some people it can be too galling to accept an agreement that the other participants are okay with (read: the other participants need to suffer). If you can accept a compromise that’s the best possible outcome for you and the other participants, you’re in good shape to consider mediation and Collaborative Practice processes