Solving the Partner Puzzle: Mediators Find the Pieces
by David Gage, Ph.D.
So many of us only get part of the picture. Certainly, that’s how it is in most of my life. That may be why I enjoy mediating so much. Business mediators tend to get all of the parts of the puzzle. They hear everything!
People with partners usually call us because there are misunderstandings, bad feelings, and differences they haven’t been able to resolve. They usually talk to a spouse or friend about the problem and get a sympathetic ear, but rarely does that person know the whole story. Partners sometimes engage attorneys, but those attorneys also get just the one side their clients tell them.
Mediators operate by a different set of rules. They work for everybody. They meet with everybody together, and they also meet with everybody separately. It’s in those separate “caucus sessions” that partners share their perspectives, their anger, hurt, and suspicions. They rarely hold back because they quickly realize if they hold back parts of their story – pieces of the puzzle – they will only hurt themselves, not to mention the search for common ground and resolution. In this way, mediators quickly gain the trust and confidence of everybody and become confidants to the partners, and this is one of the main reasons why mediation works so well.
By hearing each partner’s puzzle pieces, mediators can begin putting the puzzle together and help the partners to better understand their differences. Mediators coach partners to express their perspectives as clearly and concisely as possible and, at the same time, coach partners to listen to their partners more carefully than they were listening before. As more information is shared, confusion, anger, and other negative emotions tend to subside and the tide begins to shift toward greater openness and collaboration. The work on new understandings and written agreements begins. Mediators help put the puzzle pieces back together again. It’s a big part of why partners like mediation and why I like being a mediator.
Further Reading: Achieving Collaboration Through Mediation