Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether or not your adversary is as interested in working things out as you are. We all do things in our own time, as the following story illustrates.
A while back I mediated a workplace dispute between two women who had been friends for many years, worked in the same office, and had a falling out resulting in a strained, unpleasant atmosphere for co-workers and visitors to the office.
One of the women (I’ll call her Lorraine) was eager to get my help, the other (I’ll call her Nicole) as reticent as can be. So reticent, in fact, that I wasn’t positive she’d show up for the mediation.
The afternoon of the mediation, Lorraine showed up bright and early, nervous but eager to talk things through with her former friend. With five minutes to go before the designated start time, still no Nicole. One minute…no Nicole. Five minutes after the start time, no Nicole.
Ten minutes into the designated time, Nicole appeared. Everything about her demeanor suggested she really didn’t want to be there. She made little eye contact with me and none with Lorraine. She sat hunched unhappily at the table, doodling on the pad of paper I’d supplied. Her verbal contributions were of the monosyllabic variety.
I checked in with her privately to make sure she wanted to proceed. Even when a supervisor wants it, mediation is voluntary and the kind of untangling needed here required two willing participants. She assured me she was willing to be there even while she was still unhappy about finding herself in such a sour situation. We returned to the mediation table.
Ten more minutes of Lorraine’s eagerness and Nicole’s reticence and I was beginning to wonder what more I could do to change the one-sided conversation.
Then my eyes locked on Nicole’s doodles. All over the pad of paper were large and small variations of a single symbol. A symbol that said in abundance what she had yet been unable to say with words or body language:
The afternoon ended with one of those moments every mediator loves: Nicole and Lorraine hugging and headed out to the local pub for one of their traditional – but recently avoided – post-work drinks together.
Sometimes, people want to sort things out or reconcile with every fiber of their being, but they don’t show it. Maybe they’re protecting themselves from the risk of more pain. Maybe they don’t believe anything can really be done. Maybe they haven’t yet found the words to convey what’s in their heart of hearts.
Be careful not to judge someone’s interest in resolution by the attitude they project.