New clients are almost always nervous about what will happen in mediation. They worry that the mediator will be deciding their case, they worry that the mediator will say one person is right and the other wrong, and they worry that the whole thing will be a waste of time and money.
Prior to mediation, I invite clients to meet with me for a 30 minute consultation at no cost so I can answer any questions and explain how mediation works. My clients learn that the goal of mediation is to assist them in coming to a fully-informed, durable agreement based on their needs and interests.
Fully-informed means that all relevant information is exchanged before or during the mediation so that everyone has the same information as a basis for decision-making. Durable agreements happen when my clients are satisfied that they have achieved a shared understanding of their dispute. The agreement is only final when everyone has signed on the dotted line.
My clients and I discuss how they will get to agreement. They each have a chance to make an uninterrupted opening statement. I summarize each opening statement briefly. I may also draw out areas where my clients already agree, or help them flesh out a list of issues they will be discussing. I help them prioritize the issues list, and then I support them using interest-based negotiation to find a way to common ground.
Solutions often bubble to the surface naturally and my clients’ initial tension eases. They sometimes crack a wry joke or two as they realize that they are moving towards agreement. I help my clients work out the details of their agreement–we check the list of issues to make sure nothing is left out, then we finalize the agreement, give everyone a chance to clarify, or add important details, then we are done.
This process takes time, sometimes more than one session of mediation. If everyone agrees, we can break the mediation up into chunks, half a day at a time, or we can go as long as everyone feels we are making progress. No one should feel pressured into agreeing to something they will regret later and taking the time that is needed is one way to make sure that doesn’t happen.
I want my clients to look back on their mediation as a difficult situation that they resolved as best as they could, without further harming business or family relationships. Ideally, those relationships improved as a result of mediation, and my clients acquired tools to help them with future conflict.
Contact me if you would like to remember your mediation in the same way.