Good mediators know how to start a mediation in the best way for the particular people in the room with them at that very moment. They do not always start a mediation the same way from habit or because someone taught them to do it one way 10 years ago. They start at the beginning.
Getting from here to there isn’t about mechanics, about the list of things you must be sure to cover, or about any paperwork you need them to sign. You must know those mechanical things, but they will not bridge the divide for you, so don’t rely on them if you want to be a really good mediator.
Getting from here to there is about your way of being in the room, the way you orient yourself to the other people in the room, from the moment you and they walk in. You begin at the beginning, but not your beginning…theirs.
Stuart Diamond, writing about negotiation, said,
To be really effective, one has to start all the way back at the beginning. What is the other person feeling? How do they perceive the situation? What are the pictures in their heads? If you don’t start there, how can you possibly know where to start?
It’s tempting to bring your take-charge, list-making and list-checking-off, all-business self into the mediation room with you. To sit down with your Opening Statement checklist in front of you and begin working through each item efficiently and “professionally.” To have your Agreement to Mediate paperwork all ready for their signature, read through each item on those pages as well, then send them around with a pen.
If you do that, you will make them dizzy from the ways their heads are spinning. You will feel in charge and so on top of things, but you will have left them wobbling from side to side, arms outstretched, trying to find something to grab onto to keep themselves from fall over.
So, pause, breathe, and look deep inside their heads and hearts for a moment. I promise you will see and feel some of the things they are seeing and feeling because you will be attending to them in a kind and open way.
You will see that their stomachs are in knots. That their hearts are pounding from the nervousness they feel. Or perhaps that their fists are slightly clenched from anger. That they have tremendous courage to walk into the room and face the person they least want to be in a room with at that moment. That they are the equal human in front of you, equal to you in every way, in feeling and in smarts and in fear.
When you look for the pictures in the heads of the equal humans in front of you, a feast of possibility becomes visible to you. Then you are ready to start the mediation, to start in the unique way that will only be right for right now, today.
Tomorrow’s mediation will start differently.