I just concluded mediating two cases this week. One was a family case that involved expanding the amount of time that a daughter spent with her father. The other case involved a dispute between an employer and a former employee. What both cases had in common were a fair amount of bitterness and animosity between the parties. Moreover, it appeared that both cases were not going to result in agreements but, at the last minute, each case settled.
I mediated the family case over a period of five separate sessions. At the end of the fourth session, the parties were ready to let a judge decide an issue that was important to both parents. I asked them to take some time before the fifth session to think about any other ways that they could resolve the issue without judicial determination since no one knows their family like they do. I reminded them that in mediation, the parties keep the power to make decisions. When the parties turn decision making over to a judge, they have given away their power. I was happy and surprised when the parents greeted me at the beginning of the fifth session to say that they had come to an agreement on their own regarding the remaining issue. Giving them some time and space to think was a crucial part of the parents collaborating with each other.
The employer/employee case was one marathon session that lasted for hours. Significant components of the mediation were validating feelings and emotions as well as communicating face to face -- which had not happened prior to the mediation. A lot of new information came out during the session of which the parties and legal counsel had been unaware. In the end, the employer decided she did not want to waste time and money on litigation and legal expenses. The parties negotiated using Bill Eddy's So What's Your Proposal technique that I taught them. Using this technique allowed the parties to stop talking about what had happened in the past and to focus on making proposals to lead them toward a final agreement.
In both cases, the parties concluded their mediation sessions feeling productive and happy that they could move forward with their lives unencumbered by the disputes that had been weighing them down. Both cases reminded me of the Jack Kornfield quote, "No matter how difficult the past is, you can always begin again today."
Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year.
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.