How many times have I encountered people, or persons who know someone, involved in a major dispute but refuse to engage in mediation? What keeps them from trying to settle a serious difference that may reduce, if not eliminate, intra-family strife, as well as the emotional and financial costs of prolonged conflict?
In our practice, we’ve encountered parties who admit that — without our involvement as neutrals and non-judgmental listeners — they would never have put long-standing and challenging issues behind them. But what about family members who’d rather let the pot simmer than cool things off?
What techniques can we, as mediators, offer to encourage parties to seize, rather than dismiss, the opportunity to end or minimize strife? It’s hard. Mediation is voluntary. A judge can order parties to mediate, but can’t require them to stick with the process, let alone arrive at a settlement. As the blog’s title states, we can build a mediation practice, but can’t impose the process on potential clients.
Resistance to mediation is often most pronounced among family members who are embroiled in a protracted dispute rooted in sibling rivalry, stuck in a deep-seated, parent-child conflict, or a desire to keep secret the contents of a will or trust arrangement.
Maybe we need to modify our brand. Instead of riding a one-trick pony called ‘elder or family mediation,’ we should add to our skill set communication coaching and conflict consulting.
An agreement may not be the cure. Unlike divorce mediation, where a settlement may end the parents’ formal relationship with each other (except in such matters as child rearing), parties in an elder mediation may need to continue to work together to care for a senior or maintain real property inherited from a deceased parent. An agreement on a current matter may not apply to future issues.
Coaching parties to change their interactions with each other isn’t therapy. It’s training them in the language of mediation and the ability to listen reflectively. Ultimately, it may help them to defuse combustible and provocative terminology and/or resist making assumptions about others’ intentions.
A one-size-fits-all business model may not be the solution for all intra-family conflicts. Has the time come to enlarge our repertoire to include conflict management and dispute prevention? I think it has.
Beyond Dispute Associates
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