Veteran mediators usually develop a cadre of finely honed communication, negotiation, and facilitation skills over the years. We come to rely upon them instinctively. Hopefully, as our mediation practice grows, so do our skills.
Experienced mediators often report developing a gut feeling as to whether they can help disputing parties navigate through the labyrinth of diverse and compelling legal, perceptual, emotional, and financial challenges to a successful resolution. Research in neuroscience has dissected the anatomy of intuitive thinking. Gut reactions are far more complicated and grounded than once perceived. Oftentimes reliance upon them is not misplaced.
However, any mediator practicing long enough has encountered the “cloaked” obstacle to resolution. It simply eluded us. It bypassed our skills of observation and mediation. It tricked our guts.
As we critique ourselves as mediators after such a derailment, it is easy to take a path of blame. It must be our fault or that of the parties. But just as we preach, so must we practice. Placing blame is unproductive. After some reflective analysis, it is time to move on.
What larger lesson can be learned?
Mindful mediation is the conscious decision to mediate in the moment. In the words of Professor Riskin, (mindful mediation) “helps to avoid the problem of reacting out of habit. We can become aware of our habitual ways of conducting ourselves in mediation so that before we act we can notice our impulse to act, and decide whether or not to carry through on the impulse.”
Ironically, the same textbook touted practices that help us assist parties resolve disputes in one case, can be impediments to resolution in other situations. Riskin notes that “each moment in a mediation is so different from every other moment in the mediation. To do a good job, a mediator must be present from moment to moment.”
Truly staying in the moment is more difficult than it seems. It is one skill though that will help us not only in mediation. It will help us more fully live our lives.
See “A Conversation with Professor Leonard Riskin about Mindfulness, Dispute Resolution, and Mindfulness Resources for Mediators”