A participant in a recent support and development class told a story about his first mediation several years ago which concluded with an agreement between the parties. He said that when it was over and the parties and their attorneys were leaving, he said that the mediation had gone pretty well for his first mediation. That statement infuriated one of the parties and the mediator was upset that he had somehow inserted his own ego into what was supposed to be their process.
This story led us to a full evening’s discussion about the boundary between us and them and the implications of allowing the process to become about us – our closure rate, for example – rather than about the parties.
Interestingly, while we do not want to make the process about ourselves, we do want to bring ourselves fully into the room with all of our experiences, personal and professional, that allow us to be fully present for the experience of the parties. So the challenge is to be fully present as ourselves and yet not turn or manipulate the process to meet our own needs.
Later in the week, I was talking with a Collaborative colleague about a couple of cases we have together where the parties have been processing information about their children that they have received from the child specialist. In both cases the full team had been present to hear the child specialist’s feedback. The team had really listened and supported both parents to bring their authentic voices into the discussion truly without strategic intent. The team’s willingness to be fully present for both parties regardless of whose client was whose had a powerful positive effect on the parents, affirming the importance of both their roles and working together to parent their children. In these meetings, various members of the team told short stories about his or her own experience parenting children through divorce and yet these stories were not intended and did not turn the conversation away from the parties and toward themselves. They were offered as support for the parties and not as a distraction from the problem and the conflict they face.
It is a challenge in the work we do to bring ourselves fully into the room and not make the conversation about us. When we do allow our egos to creep into the conversation (and we all do at times), we run the risk of becoming invested in the outcome of the negotiation. If we are keeping score of how many cases we settle—we are invested. If we are thinking what the other professionals involved think of us—we are invested. Once we insert ourselves into the conflict in that way, we compromise our objectivity and may no longer be able to be as helpful to the parties.