I came across the following blog post by mediator Tammy Lenski. I loved it and wanted to share it. Tammy Lenski launched her firm in 1997 and coined the phrase conflict zen -- her non-prescriptive, simplified approach to conflict resolution. She says that she has come to believe that what many people really want during conflict is the kind of centered, balanced and intentional reaction that Zen practices teach. When people ask me about Little Falls Mediation, I always tell them that the most important part of my practice is to make people feel comfortable and safe when they come to the mediation table. Tammy Lenski's article really resonated with me:
There are some things I want to say about mediation with me, things I hope you’ll ponder before we gather, things I hope will guide you as we talk. I may mention them a time or two during our time together.
Mediation is about learning. It’s about learning something you didn’t understand before, something that may have been hidden by the frustration between you. It’s about learning what matters so deeply to the other person that unless you address it, you will remain stuck. It’s about learning what’s hooked you so deeply, too, revealing itself to you gradually until there it is, staring you in the face and begging to be acknowledged. Please understand that if you only talk about what you already think you know, nothing new will happen in mediation. That would be a shame. To learn best, you must do some of the same things you do anytime you want to learn: You must listen with curiosity and wonderment, turning off your certainty for a time. You must not talk all the time, because it is impossible to absorb new information when you’re focused on output. You must pause and chew and digest. I will help hold the space for this.
Mediation is about the future. It is tempting, so tempting, to spend your energy on what happened and didn’t happen and was said and was not said and what was wrong and not wrong. Your frustration will want to keep you there. Mediation won’t ignore the past, but neither will it dwell there, for mediation is about what will happen from this moment forward, from today on, that addresses what’s between you. You cannot change what happened but you still have dominion over today and some of tomorrow.
To look to the future, you must face forward more often than you look over your shoulder because you will fall down if you walk while looking behind you. You will hear me nudge you toward the future and help you figure out what to do with the past so that it informs you without constricting you. I will help create the space and the circumstance for this.
Mediation is about what matters. If you’re working with me, then you’re no doubt mediating something between you and a person with whom you’ll be in ongoing relationship. Perhaps a partner, perhaps a co-worker, perhaps a sibling or parent or friend. Relationships are nurtured by attending to what really matters and figuring out how not to trap yourself in the minutiae of small annoyances. You must talk about what matters. Everything else — the same argument you keep having, the lawsuit you’ve threatened, the problem you notice daily — they hint at what matters but they are not what matters.
To focus on what matters, you must dig a bit, be willing to look beneath. Sometimes you must step back and look at the broader picture. Sometimes you also have to look at what is working and figure out how to do more of that (as you learned when you first sat behind the wheel, when you focus only on potholes, you end up steering right into them). I will help create space to figure out and talk about what really matters. They may be different things for each of you. That is ok.
Mediation may make you laugh, may make you cry, may make you want to yell, may make you want to jitterbug with joy. It is wrong to think of the mediation table as a place of pain. It can be that, yes, but it can also be the place of delight and solace and freedom. Sometimes we appreciate joy more when it shines in contrast to the discomfort that preceded it.
We’ll sit down together soon. I’ll be there to learn, to look to the future, to focus on what matters. Please take my outstretched hand and join me.
© 2016 Tammy Lenski. Used with permission. Original article can be found at http://lenski.com/letter-to-mediation-clients/
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Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.