Whether we are mediating or working in the collaborative process, we are often in relationships with other professionals, either directly or indirectly. The success of the process will often depend to some extent on our ability to successfully manage the various tensions that can arise between professionals. When we understand that these tensions are inevitable, natural and usually very much a result of the difference in our functions and orientations, we have a much better chance of bridging the gaps that exist in our understandings. Rather than simply working to try to eliminate the tensions, if we can understand the source of the tensions, that understanding will often point to the direction of solving the substantive problems between the parties and understanding the dynamics between the parties. Isomorphism is a term for the tendency of a system to replicate another system, which can arise in our cases. If we can recognize and understand how the system that is developing between the professionals is mirroring some aspects of the parties’ interactive system, this can help us to better understand the parties’ system.
These issues are often difficult and subtle to get a handle on, between us and the other people we are working with as well as within ourselves. We must be able to observe our inner responses to the parties and to the other professionals as well as what is happening on the outside in our relationships. As always, we strongly believe that the key to being able to really help people in conflict is to use the power of understanding. There are times when the need to deal with inter-professional relationships will be critical and other times when it is not so important. At every stage, we can watch out for conspiring unwittingly with other professionals to pretend that our perspectives are either more similar or more different than they might really feel to us. It can be as much a problem when we collude with the other professionals to ignore our differences as when we overemphasize them out of the tension we feel.
A source of at least some of the tensions between professionals can be the role they are playing, including whether they are there on one side or acting as a neutral, and the kinds of relationships they have established or failed to establish with the clients. It is helpful to recognize that in these situations, we often need to pay attention to the weakest link for the whole process not to come unraveled. Viewing this as a team challenge rather than a problem with one member can lead to a more comprehensive approach to addressing the concern.
In mediation, particularly when we might not have direct contact with the professionals, these tensions can also exist with a “shadow team” such as when we feel that a lawyer or other professional is sabotaging the progress of the mediation or giving incompetent advice, but we end up dealing with them through the clients. Depending on the clients to be the conveyers of the information between the professionals runs the danger of increasing the misunderstanding between us and it may be necessary for the communication between the professionals to be more direct, while taking care not to leave the clients out of the loop.
The goal here is to create relationships with the other professionals that neither exaggerate nor minimize our differences. Concretely, this means that a professional needs to be able to see these dynamics in the roles and relationships and have the courage to be the first to speak up, which means risking putting our professional relationships at risk and jeopardizing what otherwise may appear to be a well functioning team. If we can have agreements with the other professionals about including this dimension as part of our dialogues, this can enhance our ability to work effectively and enhance our relationships.