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As a mediator, the biggest challenge I face is finding parties that are sincerely prepared to work together to resolve their concerns. It is not uncommon to meet prospects whose life and health, finances and work, stress, sleep and other relationships have been severely impacted by conflict. In spite of this, many people find it arduous to engage effectively with the other party.

While each case and every person is different, some common difficulties include: being empathetic with someone that we disagree with. Empathy is tough at the best of times and can become even more so during a conflict. There is also shame often associated with accountability; especially, if we have said or done things that contributed to or escalated a conflict. Finally, when we are mired in a conflict and suffering from its impacts, it can be a struggle to see the bigger picture and to think clearly about what to do.

Some common refrains that highlight such perspectives:

“How can we negotiate with someone so unreasonable?!”

“Everyone else in our office / community / class / club / … agrees with me and knows that ___ is a jerk.”

“Of course, I’m prepared for mediation, as long as they are prepared to adopt my perspective and apologize for theirs.”

A few questions that may help you assess your readiness to participate effectively in a mediation.

  • Imagine for a moment that the other party is reasonable, intelligent and did not act or speak with the intention of causing you grief. Within such a scenario, how could you explain the things that they did or said that triggered or escalated the conflict?
  • Can you identify at least three specific things that you said or did that may have contributed to the conflict? How did these words or actions impact the conflict? What can you be accountable for? Is there anything that you should apologize for or propose to do differently in the future?
  • Can you identify some of the specific emotions that you have experienced relative to this conflict? What triggers and needs might these relate to? How do these highlight what is most important to you in this situation?
  • Can you identify any of the specific emotions, needs or triggers that the other party may have experienced, demonstrated, identified, or communicated to you? What does this tell you about what may be most important to them?
  • What would it be like for you to sit with the other person and to simply listen to their perspective without reacting, rebutting, defending or rolling your eyes? What if some of the things that they say are ones you disagree with or believe to be false? Would you still be able to listen to them without judgement, ask clarifying questions, and paraphrase what you heard?
  • How has this conflict impacted your health, sleep, eating habits, stress levels, work, other relationships? How would these impacts change if you were able to effectively resolve this conflict? What would the impacts be on you if this conflict dragged on for another month, six months, a year?

If these questions are hard to answer in detail, consider taking more time before engaging with the other party; whether in mediation or otherwise. Is it possible for you to address some of the impacts that the conflict is having on your health and stress levels first? Is there anyone you respect that you can speak openly to about the situation without seeking advice or agreement? How else could you try to gain some perspective?

While not every party to a conflict is prepared to engage in mediation, most are willing to share their perspective with someone who is sincerely curious about it and is willing to hear it with an open mind and without judgement.