A recent presentation with several colleagues at a training retreat in Toronto for professional mediators opened my eyes to something I had not really thought about before. It was fascinating.
Most of the mediators were lawyers who have tired of, or burned-out from, dealing with the adversarial nature of conflict. Mediation offers them a more collaborative way of resolving disputes.
Our presentation “Mediation Master Class: Changing The Lens” analyzed a commercial/business partnership case. We approached the case from three perspectives: legal, business and psychological, which was my lens. Many mediators who were present failed to perceive the significance of the psychological aspects of the dispute. Nor did they understand the intensity of the parties’ feelings or how to deal with them. Because emotion provides a primary impetus for resolution, it was an important experience.
One of the presentations about the brain science that underlies emotions demonstrated several important skills for accessing and de-escalating the strong feelings that can block the resolution of any conflict. This included experiencing emotion, self-awareness, empathy, and the power of listening and reflecting the other party’s feelings.
While disputants have feelings about their situation, the circumstances and the opposing party, anger is generally the presenting emotion. This is true even when the underlying feelings of hurt and fear may be even more intense. These deeper emotions are seldom addressed effectively, which is unfortunate because they move people much more than words alone.
By inclination and training, attorneys solve problems using the essential skills of cognition, logic and rational thinking. Judges and arbitrators must remain neutral and are required to resolve disputes based on facts, not the personal stories of the parties. Let’s face it, people and their feelings are messy!
It’s important to understand that, even in complex business disputes, emotions often provide the catalyst for resolution. An individual who has been wronged, deceived, betrayed, suffered a breach of trust or an injustice by a business partner has suffered twice. Once for the offense and once for the relationship injury.
This is why a durable resolution requires that parties resolve the presenting problem or dispute as well as repair their relationship. It is very difficult for individuals to recover and let go of unfairness and hurt. Thus, the motivation to adhere to an agreement is diminished unless they fix the problem and fix the relationship.
Lawyers know that parties have strong feelings about their conflict. However, most don’t really understand how to address or manage the emotions that would help their clients to effectively resolve their disputes.
Attorneys also understandably worry about clients getting emotionally “out of control” and saying things that may damage or undermine their case. However, sometimes what a client really wants is to understand what happened and to know that the opposing party cares about them. Sometimes one wishes for an apology or acknowledgement of unfair or hurtful behavior.
Usually, people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. This is especially true of business partners where there is a relationship and a dispute. Both must be addressed, cleaned up, in order to achieve a durable resolution that allows individuals to repair, recover and move on, either independently or together.