When describing the mediator’s role to clients I often use the analogy of an artist.
When the mediator first enters into a conflict, they are much like a painter. They begin with a blank canvas.
As they speak to each person involved in the conflict, a new coloured brush stroke appears. With each person’s new view or perspective, a new colour appears.
The first person the mediator speaks to may provide the colour red. The second person provides another brush stroke, orange. The third person, the brush stroke, green, and so on, until a picture appears.
The picture that appears is the combination of all brush strokes. The combination of all views amalgamating into one single picture that provides insights into what has occurred, what the individuals involved intended, and what they now desire.
After the individual discussions stage of the mediation process, often only the mediator can see the newly formed, unique, picture that has appeared through the insights of those involved in the conflict.
The mediator’s role now is to help all the individuals involved in the conflict see the vivid picture that has appeared - with all the different brush strokes.
The confidential nature of mediation means that the mediator is bound to secrecy about what she or he has uncovered.
What the mediator does instead of revealing his or her findings is to run a structured process that allows the individuals involved in the conflict to uncover the alternative brush strokes themselves.
Mediation enables the different brush strokes, the different stories that make up the one story, to be revealed, brush stroke by stroke.
Mediators use skills such as questioning techniques to expose what events mean or had meant to one individual or the other, what was intended by one action or another, and what individuals now intend upon reflection. They also seek out and focus on what each individual now desires for the future, and how this may work to jointly satisfy all those involved, as much as possible.
The beauty of mediation is the dance that illuminates the multiple stories or strokes, which so often have shared meaning, and yet those involved in the conflict haven’t yet developed the eyes to see the full picture.