Ainsley Francis writes:


I had the opportunity assist in a mediation some time ago, and John has asked me to share my top three learning points from the day, as well as my thinking about why the process of mediation works and what makes it work. As a designer by training, that mediation day was my first experience of the process in person, thought during my time at Core, I have surely heard a lot about the details. The three things that struck me most were:

  1. The importance of the focus on environment and scene setting. Having separate rooms where each team could meet privately as well as a neutral third space set up an environment where the parties could have a certain amount a safety and privacy. The rooms were comfortable, but not too much so. Throughout the day, the Mediator re-arranged the rooms or moved furniture to encourage certain moods in interactions, often through the placement of chairs. This was an effective method of bringing out more personal connections and openness when this was needed throughout the day.
  2. The rhythm of the day was interesting. I felt that the longer meetings with each party early in the day, including the presentations and first questions sessions, allowed each party to feel heard, and to draw out the detail of the issues. Later in the day, the mediator moved to shorter meetings with space for private consultation between. This allowed the focus to shift from exploration and understanding to a more rapid, iterative process of problem solving.
  3. The mediator made a significant transition of tone as the day wore on, and they realised that a resolution could be reached. Throughout the day the mediator had made it clear that resolutions did not need to be reached, and that sometimes the best decision for one or both parties could be to continue legal proceedings. As it got late however, and the mediator realised that in this case, both parties knew that coming to a resolution on the mediation day was the best possible outcome, and that further legal proceedings would not bring about the best outcome, they said so firmly. They then directed the discussion to be more concrete, bringing each party to commit to a monetary settlement and begin to suggest specific figures, in a business-minded fashion.

Meditation is a process that is well designed to resolve disputes in a mutually beneficial manner. The privacy and confidentiality of the process encourages individuals to more freely and openly air their positions, perspectives and issues, allowing each side to better understand the position of the other. It is also a situation where, because of the lack of positional entrenchment, each can use their new understanding to inform their moves towards a common agreement. The mediator drew on this strength thought the day, for example, by asking parties how new information that they had learned affected their thinking about the situation.

The environment was also carefully planned so that the parties felt safe and maintained their agency during the day. Each party always had a private space to retreat to, which built a sense of ease into what must have been a difficult situation for all the parties involved. Having separate rooms as well as a room for joint meetings meant that if a participant is put on the spot they are not required to respond in the moment but may retreat to a private space to consider and have someone to consult with. Movement between the rooms also meant that there was a lot of informal discussion that happened ad-hoc through the day, allowing for relationship building and personal connection, an attitude that was initiated by the joint informal breakfast. Finally, since there is no requirement that a conclusion be reached and because the mediator reminded the parties throughout the day that mediation is a valuable process regardless of outcomes, the parties maintain their agency. This ensures that the outcome is not coerced, and encourages listening, creativity and flexibility in coming together to solve the problem at hand.

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