However, in order to be able to explore the circumstances, as mediators, we may have to first deal with the dynamic. Usually accusations of lying are accompanied by anger and upset and result in defensive behavior and sometimes counter accusations. Our job is to be able to settle the situation down, to bring to bear the power of the light of understanding by turning down the heat of the expression. We do this by directly describing whatever dynamic we observe: “I notice that once Bill accused Joan of misrepresenting how much money from her family that Joan put into the purchase of the house, you both appeared to be very upset. Is that true? And can we talk about that?”
Our observation of both the content and the dynamic of a conversation is the result of what we call “bifocal vision”. When the dynamic interferes with the parties hearing each other, we need to address it, and unless we do, it will be hard to have a constructive conversation where we can get down to understanding what actually happened.
Still the question remains, what do we do when it is clear to us that one party has lied to the other? Here the challenge is to not be so invested in the success of the mediation that we avoid the difficult conversation. If we avoid dealing with the situation in hopes the parties will reach an agreement because that is how we measure the success of the mediation, we can become co-conspirators to avoid helping the parties face their situation. It can be a mark of the success of the mediation that one party realized that the truth of the situation was that they could no longer trust the other, and that they needed the protection of the legal system to be able to get to the truth.
Finally, as mediators, we also need to know how to deal with our own reactions to one or both of the parties so that we don’t move into a position of becoming judges and at the same time don’t avoid pointing out dangerous behavior that can skew the mediation unfairly. While we don’t want to relativize truth, at the same time, we need to support the parties to determine how they each want to deal with the fact of a lie. Sometimes, the confession of a lie can lead to a commitment to be more honest, so we need to walk the line of not condemning the person who lied and renew our commitment to having honest conversations. Ultimately it is up to the parties to decide what they want to do about the discovery of a lie, and it is also our prerogative if we feel that our neutrality has been compromised to make our own stand based on our integrity. Dangerous, difficult work.