On Friday I concluded my final mediation of 2020; a heart-warming settlement with genuinely happy parties on both sides. Most mediations finish with both parties feeling mildly disappointed but relieved, so it is very rewarding when you see people move from anger and despair to happiness and peace.
I feel quite emotional when I reflect on the year that is drawing to a close. The world feels like it has shifted to a precarious place, but I believe there are many positives that have come out this difficult year.
From a personal point of view, I have much to be thankful for. At the start of 2020, I had one mediation under my belt. When the Covid crisis broke in March, I had done two. At that point, it’s fair to say I panicked a bit because (like many others), I assumed mediations would not be possible for a while. Looking back, having conducted 15 mediations during the pandemic; 12 remote and 3 in person, I feel incredibly grateful that my assumption proved to be incorrect.
We have all learned a lot about ourselves this year. These are my main take-aways from this unusual year.
- “Assumptions are the mother of all **** ups”
As a trainee solicitor, my supervisor used to drill this mantra into me. Since becoming a mediator I have understood this phrase on a much deeper level. I always share the following Stephen Covey quote with my mediation clients: “Two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right. It’s not logical, it’s psychological”. Making assumptions and confirmation bias are at the heart of most conflicts that I see as a mediator. Parties always find it very difficult to understand that the other party does not share their perspective on the dispute. “Their truth” becomes “the truth”, and that can take be hard to unpick.
This year I started a Focussed Mindfulness Relationship Coaching Course, and I was introduced to “Don Miguel Ruiz: The Four Agreements”. These are:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
Our lack of natural ability as humans to do the first 3 and our difficulty believing that others are always doing their best with the current thinking that they have, also underpins most personal conflict.
The current healthcare crisis, political situation, and the work that I have done during 2020 has taught me that assumptions really are the mother of all **** ups. Don Miguel Ruiz puts it rather more eloquently:
“Assumptions are made so fast and unconsciously most of the time because we have agreements to communicate this way. We have agreed that it is not safe to ask questions: we have agreed that if people love us, they should know what we want or how we feel”
“Your own opinions and point of view reflect your own agreements and are personal to you. It is no one’s truth but yours.”
As mediators and lawyers, I believe we have a responsibility to help our clients to walk through conflict with these agreements in mind. This starts by living them ourselves. If we all managed to do that, the world would surely become a better place.
2. Remote Mediation
Thank goodness for technology! It has enabled individuals to continue resolving their disputes in the uncertain climate that we find ourselves in.
A crisis often brings positive change and innovation. In the mediation world, the arrival of remote mediation has created not only a more cost effective, but also more private means to resolve personal family disputes. For many clients, physically attending a mediation with family members they have fallen out with is a very daunting feeling. The thought of physically encountering certain family members can cause sleepless nights. Those anxieties fall away with confidential virtual breakout rooms.
Contrary to what many people assume, going virtual can be more personal than you would imagine. For many clients saying how you feel into a camera is less intense than sitting around a table. Overall, it can be a calming, empowering and undoubtedly effective way of resolving disputes.
Do not assume we will all revert to in person mediation as the default. I predict that once the pandemic is over, some parties to family inheritance disputes will continue to choose remote mediation over in person mediations. Not only does it work, for some cases it is the better choice.
3. Evolution of the mediation process
Before video conferencing was widely adopted, most mediations were preceded by a quick telephone call between the lawyers and the mediator to get a flavour of the dispute. The pandemic gave birth to the pre-mediation video conference call.
The benefits are tangible for the parties, the lawyers, and the mediator. By investing extra time and asking a few simple, open questions so that a client can be truly heard, it is a wonderful opportunity to build some early rapport and to calm the client’s nerves before the mediation. This conversation often results in me being able to see the root of the conflict more clearly. Possible paths to unblocking the obstacles to resolution start to appear before the day of the mediation itself. On the morning of the actual mediation, all the mediation participants are already two steps further ahead than they would have been in pre-Covid days.
I believe that even with a return to more in person mediations, the remote pre-mediation call will remain an important part of the mediation process. It is not just about testing the technology, it is about all the participants in the mediation spending more time on preparation and working collaboratively to maximise the chances of success on the day of the mediation. The mediation process has evolved for the better.
Looking ahead to 2021
Understandably, many people are desperate to say good riddance to 2020 and to welcome in a more hopeful year. Whatever our role in life, we all need to reflect on the positives which have come out of 2020 and to be grateful for those. For my part, walking through life with Don Miguel’s Four Agreements at the forefront of my mind will help me to get through whatever next year will throw at us. However tough it feels right now, I hope you can look ahead with a positive outlook.
I wish you all a happy, healthy, and peaceful Christmas and 2021.