(You’ll especially love the last one 😊)
I’m always looking for sublime ways to explain the mediation process to prospective clients. Although strict definitions are important (link to FAQ”s), I find it necessary to speak more to the spirit of the process than to the “x’s and 0’s”. Sometimes, a brilliant quote can capture the essence of this mediation in ways that I cannot personally express. Here are a few quotes that I think are truly revelatory of what mediation is and how it is an effective way to help folks create peace.
1. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”~ Viktor E. Frankl
Viktor Frankl wrote the book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, which is consistently cited as a top ten book everyone should read in their lifetime. I think he truly had the bones of a mediator. This quote speaks to the role of the mediator in shifting reactive behavior and automatic responses to responsive dialogue. A “reaction” is defined by the Miriam Webster Dictionary as a:
“….bodily response to or activity aroused by a stimulus.”
When we become upset, we often react without first composing our thoughts. We become angry or upset, our face gets flushed, our heart rate increases and we say things that we often regret because we either did not or could not step back and compose our thoughts. The result usually causes the other person to do the same, and the conflict dance begins. The very core of the mediator’s job is to occupy that “space” between the stimulus and the response and to use appropriate interventions and techniques to ensure that – regardless of the stimulus presented – the parties can remain focused and are able to respond with organized and objective thought. A mediator never manipulates parties to a specific outcome, but, instead, manipulates reactive parties towards a peaceful and fruitful conversation. When we “respond” with dialogue, rather than react and engage in a debate, we are free to truly identify issues, explore options for resolution, and finally create a peaceful, mutually acceptable outcome.
2. “Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it.”~ Niels Bohr
Sometimes, my clients will get to a point where they have run out of possible solutions. One way to move beyond impasse is to help them brainstorm options. Quite often, I will hand them a piece of paper with this quote and ask them to begin to list any option for settlement that may come to mind, regardless of how impractical or absurd. Helping people to move beyond their habitual, instinctive ways of thinking and getting them to “think outside the box” leads to a lively exchange of ideas, and, ultimately, to unanticipated but welcome solutions.
3. “Follow me, the wise man said and he walked behind.”~ Leonard Cohen
If you have read any of my articles, you know I love the late, great Leonard Cohen. This quote speaks to another aspect of the mediator’s role. Simply speaking, the mediator is the least important person in the room. My job is to be the humble facilitator who creates the safe, proactive space necessary to allow the parties to create their own settlement. The mediator is trained to provide the appropriate structure of the conversations while the clients completely own their own outcome.
4. “Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think.”~ Niels Bohr
Niels again! I think he was a mediator pretending to be a physicist. In litigation, the language used is foreign to most of us. Words are used that have been interpreted by statutory construction, customary usage in a particular court, and upon mounds of caselaw. In essence, being asked to speak “legalese” is being asked to speak a foreign language. The meanings and phrases used can be easily misinterpreted by those not practiced in the law. Mediation encourages you to speak in your own words with your own meanings. Gone from this process is the jargon of courts and the fear of misinterpretation.
5. “Mediation is conflict’s way of looking at itself.”~ Jeff Cohen
Huh? Let me explain. As a true nerd, I have enjoyed reading brainy quotes from the likes of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Many years ago, I came across Bohr’s quote: “A physicist is just an atom’s way of looking at itself”, and I created the corollary quote regarding mediation. At its core, mediation helps the participants dissect their disagreements intellectually and less reactively by:
- Exploring why they are in conflict; and
- Understanding what each individual has contributed to the conflict; and
- Exploring and articulating feelings and emotions; and
- Exploring possible outcomes; and
- Brainstorming options for settlement; and
- Learning problem-solving skills; and
- Exploring each party’s resistance to aspects of settlement; and
- Exploring how to best implement their agreements.
6. “Hi, I’m George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”George Costanza, “Seinfeld
I’ve written about this in another article, but it bears repeating…
Some of you will immediately remember this line and the TV show it came from. For those of you who don’t, George Costanza was a character in the show “Seinfeld”. He was hopelessly neurotic and serially challenged in finding both gainful employment and love. In one of my favorite episodes (that is worth watching again!), he decides that in order to change his luck, he will become “opposite George” and will do everything in a way that is opposite to his normal behaviors. Ergo, when he sees an attractive woman sitting at the lunch counter, he gets the date by walking up to her and delivering that now-famous line. As the show progresses, he finds great success by acting contrary to his normal self….memorably!
“Seinfeld” was a study of human nature and it was hilarious because it took our normal, daily experiences and made them absurd. George (pronounced “Jawge”) showed us that if we can move beyond our instinctive, ingrained behaviors, we can transform ourselves and find success. And that is also the premise for how a trained mediator helps folks find their peace.
As I often say to my clients, my job is not to give answers, but to instead use psychologically-based interventions and techniques that, among other things, allow them to consider different perspectives that help them think differently or more meaningfully about their issues and about how to resolve their disagreements. One of the many techniques I use is to play “opposite George”, which takes each person 180 degrees from her/his normal thinking. This promotes creative thinking, and allows for the exploration of concepts that normally would not be considered. Such thinking can be “transformative” and more often than not, leads to extraordinary solutions, often with magnificent results.