“I gained quite an understanding of your position”.

These words remain with me after recently acting as an Assistant Mediator with Core for the first time having completed my training with Core at the end of last year. Mediation itself isn’t new to me though. I first used mediation many years ago in a long standing dispute. As John put it, at that time, mediation was very much for the “pioneers”. Now it’s much more recognised of course. So coming back to what attracted me to do the course after so many years? Well a few things I suppose:-

  • A feeling that everything around us is becoming increasingly complex
  • That, in order to enable us to navigate this new complex world, we may need skills different from those we have learned and practised in the past
  • Change isn’t easy. One of the things that jumped out at me from this particular mediation was that it’s all a balance between competing interests and in today’s world that feels like the context we are operating in in many scenarios.
  • Communication is a good thing in almost all cases. Expressing our needs (and this isn’t controversial) makes us feel better even if, ultimately, for whatever reason, those needs cannot be met.

So, how did an actual mediation feel as compared to the course?

Remarkably similar. So much so that at one point in the morning I remarked to our mediator “my goodness this is just exactly like the course, how do you manage to make the course so similar to the real thing?”

What were the similarities?

The stages of the process were pretty much as explained and practised during the course. The feeling of the dispute opening out and then narrowing again felt very similar to the course. The way parties engaged with the process (with advisers or not) felt like the course.

Also during the course the scenarios don’t shy away from the emotional and relational aspects of disputes.

During the course, we discussed many times how it’s not in the black and white that the real substance lies. Instead it’s in the shades of grey or “in the margins”. An example of this was the milliseconds lying between medals in swimming competitions. Too small almost to imagine in the mind these milliseconds made all the difference when it came to leaving with a medal or without one.

So in the margins here, as often, there was an untold story. A story which had grown uncontrolled in the letters and papers. The first joint meeting felt like a release of pressure, a chance to hear the back story in a human and relaxed setting. For me it felt like the dispute had retaken humanity in its grasp away from the black and white words which had defined relationships for so long. From this came the “I gained quite an understanding of your position”. Of course, nothing had changed in positions, no facts had altered but it was just that, stripped away from the papers, this was the first time parties had spoken to each other about their real, heart felt needs and fears. This is surely the power of mediation – the power of conversation from the heart.

As the day progressed, I again expressed the thought that this is so like the course. From reality testing parties’ respective positions, to discussing and drilling down into best alternatives to negotiated settlements. It was great seeing the course come to life. And of course the examples during the course always had that “human” dimension to them. I remember one of the examples with a particularly angry party and being advised to “step into that anger and not away from it. Acknowledge it and give it its place”. This is the value of the course – being able to practice in a safe space in scenarios which bear all the same hallmarks as real life.

What were the turning points in the real mediation?

I think for me one of the points which felt like a turning point was when the parties came together for the first time to speak about where they were coming from. It felt from that moment like a weight had lifted and there was hope for settlement.

What will you take home from the mediation?

That real curiosity and a willingness to “gain quite an understanding of your position” no matter how far down a road things have advanced is still possible, desirable and could lead to a very different road indeed.


By Angie Meffan-Main, Policy Profession Manager, Directorate for Local Governments and Communities, Scottish Government

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