I recently conducted a wonderful mediation.  Wonderful because of the depth of challenging issues and the willingness of the parties to work through them.

The parties came in with distinct viewpoints on a variety of challenging issues. They had worked together for almost two decades, and history bound them together but also provided ample fodder for grudges.

We laid out each issue and discussed a tentative plan.  They agreed yes, I’m nervous, but we will try out.  We all shook hands and walked away.

I got in my car and sat there realizing I felt unsatisfied.  The mediation went well. There was a meeting of the minds and forward movement.  Some issues were left to be resolved but enough issues were solved that they could continue to work together.  But yet I was missing something . . .

Later that night I was watching a movie and as the credits rolled I realized I finally felt at ease.  The movie had tense drama, suspenseful music, then the hero finally hit on the piece that would make everything right again with the world. Everyone sighed a deep breath of relief, he got the girl, and we could relax.

Now logically I realize that mediation is not a movie. It is not actually Fairly Legal, believe it or not.  I know that in my head, but I was stunned to realize that I have been so programmed for that “Ahha!” moment that I felt the mediation was incomplete.  Inadequate. A failure.

The worst part?  At the end of the mediation I think that my clients felt like a burden had been lifted and I bet my body language did not support that.  I am afraid that in my need for an “Ahha!”, I might have indirectly conveyed to them that the mediation did not go well.  As if one party could say, “I know!  The problem is X!  I’ll stop doing that and now everything will be perfect!”

The reality is much softer, subtler, quiet.  People slowly work through one layer of hurt and distrust, they open a little and discuss more of an agreement, and then begin to think about  the next layer. Forgiveness and collaboration are not an event, I learned, as much as a journey.

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