Let’s take that last question first. Often, when we’re in conflict with someone, we’ve had conversations in the past and those encounters have gone nowhere, or worse – they’ve made the situation harder. We often feel powerless to resolve the situation. After all, if that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t be in mediation (or court) in the first place. Mediation is fundamentally different from prior interactions you have had with the other party to the conflict because of the presence of the mediator, a person trained to listen without judgment, to explore possibilities with you, and to guide the two of you through a conversation. You will have a chance to talk about not only what happened, but how it has impacted you, and potential ways to repair the damaged relationship. Probably the most important thing that will come out of the mediation is that you will have a better understanding of what mediators refer to as your “needs and interests,” meaning those things that are most important to you in negotiating a resolution to the conflict. In other words, while no one can guarantee that a resolution will come out of the mediation, you will likely leave the mediation with a much better understanding of what you and the other party need out of a resolution and what is likely to satisfy those needs.
The key to all of this is active engagement. Mediation is not a passive process. Everyone in the room is an active participant. The more you thoughtfully communicate, the more you will be taking advantage of the opportunity mediation provides: an opportunity to be heard, but also an opportunity to actively listen to and engage with your co-disputant. Active listening, as we often train mediators, requires us to remain present and open to new information. It requires us to stop thinking about what we are going to say in response, and instead attempt to really hear what the other person is saying. Active listening is a difficult thing to do, especially in emotionally charged situations. One of the best things you can do to prepare for mediation is to take a breath and try to relax. It may seem like an impossible thing to do, but it will allow you to fully engage with all the facts and emotions at the table, and may help to set the stage for a resolution that could not have been imagined prior to the mediation.
As far as process, the mediator will ask each of you to make a brief opening statement explaining what has brought you to mediation and what you hope to accomplish. Then, you will be given the opportunity to discuss the conflict with each other and the mediator. At some point, there may be an opportunity for each of you to meet separately with the mediator to explore settlement options and clarify information. It is important to remember that all of these conversations are confidential and that, with the exception of situations where the mediator feels someone inside or outside the mediation is in danger of serious imminent harm, the mediator will not share what they have learned with anyone outside of CCR.