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
© Sig Cohen and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sig Cohen and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. – See more at: http://toughconversations.net/what-i-love-about-elder-mediation
I deal with land disputes and offer mediation to various land disputants. Most of the time, the parties are not resistant to mediation but at times they vehemently oppose the process. They want the matter to be taken to the courts of law, no matter how much I try to explain and sell the various advantages of having the matter mediated as oppossed to taking the matter to Court, they are just oppossed to the idea.
Sometimes they may buy into the idea but bail out when the mediation process has to commence. This being a voluntary process there is not much one can do.
Yes, i agree that we need to engage in conflict management and dispute prevention.
Kirsty Petersen says
Excellent article Sig! This is exactly the reason I have put together communication workshops in my family mediation practice. I think we can all, in one way or another, benefit from some education about how to communicate with friends, family and colleagues. 🙂
Chris Thomas says
Really well written article Sig. Thank you
We have just gone through a family mediation regarding a will but it has sadly left the parties more riven by bitterness than before and has now also involved children who weren’t involved in the original mediation. I think this was because the mediation was effectively taken over by the lawyers and the mediator didn’t get the opportunity to get to grips with the real issues.
We may well now have lost the opportunity to heal old wounds within the family
wobo bestman says
In Africa where I come from sometimes when families have land disputes when you try to mediate between the two parties they sometimes bail out on you and head to court. When the court fails them, they run back to you the mediator. That’s when they will know court doesn’t offer them the much desired victory. When you ask them why didn’t they continue with the court, they will tell you..that joy joy is better than war war.
Debra A. Hamilton says
This is part of my conundrum. I built the bridge in conflicts between people involving animals.
However people still abdicate their ability to create a lasting solution to their attorney. They would rather sue believing they will win than sit down in the same room and have a difficult discussion. People arguing over or about a pet don’t choose to address the conflict. Let the attorney do it…even if he does not state the facts as they really see them.
I am not discouraged. Enough people are attending my educational events that the paradigm will shift incrementally in the future. You are right Sig, if we begin to educate the public by conflict coaching and consulting we will help warring parties choose to retain their ability to solve for a better x.
Dr. Mary Kendall Hope says
Your image here associated with your question stands a powerful testament to the answer in my view. Imagine that you are an able bodied engineer and you come across a well built sturdy structure that needs completion. Let’s assume those who originally committed to building the bridge “bailed out” due to lack of resources – in this case – emotional strength to finish – but for the bridge analogy to work – it would be financial resources.
If you (the engineer) stumbling over this abandoned bridge now have the financial resources (or in our case – emotional strength & maturity) to finish the bridge – you will finish the bridge.
In conflict situations – often people to get a place and stop because of their own internal conflicts. They are in denial of their own internal conflicts – most of the time. But these internal weaknesses stop them from completing the bridges that we hopefully have stimulated them to build for themselves. They will come back to their own built bridge (IF YOU ALLOW THEM TO IN FACT BUILD THEIR OWN Bridge) in time. If you have “GIVEN” them a bridge – it will stay abandoned – because those involved in it – are not committed to the bridge – it was “your” bridge and not theirs.
In my experience of 11 years now as an instructor/professor of conflict analysis & resolution this is the hardest lesson for any new or even at times EXISTING professional to learn = the patience to allow those involved in a conflict the LONG TIME needed for the disputants to build their own bridges. Your role is only to ask gentle questions – sometimes direct closed questions, but in a gentle and supportive manner – to allow them the dignity and respect to build their own bridges in their own time.
If they die before they are able to cross their bridge, then trust that some other engineer (their descendants) will come and finish the bridge in the manner that THEY (descendants) think is best.
Just my thoughts…