It’s interesting how the further I get into mediation, the more I read about advanced mediation techniques that are very metaphysical. People who are otherwise hard-headed negotiators talk about directing energy flow in the room, extending a space of love to encompass angry people, centering and creating a calm presence that flows to the participants, and other descriptions of what the mediator does that were very unexpected to me when I first started hearing them – especially considering the very businesslike, straight-laced looking people that I was hearing them from.
There are many zen-like discussions of how the mediator creates their own sense of centeredness and shuts out the distracting business and emotions of everyday life before the mediation, so that they can offer this groundedness to the participants from the start. Yet, what is more interesting to me is what happens during the mediation.
So many people come into the room expecting to convince us of one particular reality. Frequently we find ourselves wondering privately what the “truth” of the situation is, even though it’s not our job to identify the truth (unlike a judge or arbitrator), or you might say, to select among the possible truths. Instead, I have come to believe that it is our job to hear and support the two different realities that we know will be present in the room – to hold them in our hands and minds simultaneously as equally valid, equally real to those who hold them – no matter how crazy they sound to us, or how irreconcilable they are. Because it’s been my observation that when the mediators can do this, they are trusted, and the space becomes safer for both participants.
The safe space that is created then provides the opportunity for each person’s reality to shift toward the other’s. Sometimes this doesn’t happen, and then the mediator simply listens very carefully to identify whether there is enough overlap in the realities as they stand to reach an agreement. One might think that one has to first arrive at the truth to agree on what needs to be done, but this isn’t the case at all. As long as the agreement works within each person’s reality, it will survive. Sometimes, this feels like threading a needle or finding the pinpoint of overlap in widely divergent circles.
All the better though, if the comfort level increases to the point where the participants can start to shift their realities toward the other person. When that happens, it just becomes all the easier to craft an agreement – since now there is greater overlap and greater opportunity. This is where transformative mediation occurs – the opportunity to mend relationships and set the stage for healing and progress in the future – so important in cases of child custody, which is a large percentage of what we do.
Recently, I’ve been reading about the trickster archetype (shapeshifter, prankster, reality twister, gift-bringer) in relation to the role of the mediator, a fascinating subject which will have to wait for another post :)