1. Taking notes on a Venn diagram.
I work to ensure that everything surrounding the mediation guides the parties towards cooperation, including the way I take notes. Dividing a rectangular sheet of paper with a line down the middle, as I had seen other mediators do, felt unnecessarily divisive, so I started taking notes in circles. Where the circles overlap, is a perfect place to record points of agreement. Here is a sample. If you find this useful, feel free to download a form to photocopy.
2. Something for the parties to do with their hands.
Nervous or agitated clients click pens, crack knuckles or drum fingers on the table, bringing some measure of comfort to themselves but irritating everyone else. Some people think best while in motion, so I bought a collection of hacky sacks, and place them in a basket on the mediation table, explaining that the parties can squeeze and smash these colorfully crocheted cotton balls to their hearts content. Find them for about $5/each online or at a local fair trade store.
Other people like to doodle and draw. Coloring mandalas is known to be centering and calming, so I provide a set of markers and mandala coloring books with perforated pages, so the parties may take their design home after the mediation. I recommend Everyone’s Mandala Coloring Book available for $8 at. www.mandali.com
3. Watch the time with an hourglass.
I am too absorbed in the process to pay attention to time. But I still need to let long-winded parties know that it is time to give the other side a turn, and ensure that I spend about the same amount of time with each party while in caucus. Looking at my watch suggests I am not listening, and a timer would be disruptive, so I use a five-minute hourglass as a visual reminder for opening statements, turning it over twice for caucus. Search for hourglass online and find a wonderful variety from simply utilitarian to artistically handmade.
I tell parents who are mediating a parenting plan that I will work to deescalate any past conflict, and ask them to start by completing some online exercises before our first meeting. Charlie and Barb Asher created www.uptoparents.org as a confidential and interactive website for divorced and divorcing parents. Exercises ask parents to consider their conflict from the children’s perspective, and suggest they commit to positive interactions around the children. One task on the website ask parents to create a list of at least 10 good memories and compliments about each other that they each promise to share with the children.
At the beginning of the mediation, I read these lists out loud. Hearing that Dad will tell the kids that Mom is a good dancer, and that Junior inherited her beautiful brown eyes; or that Mom will tell the children that, “Dad was so excited when you were born, I just knew he would be a wonderful father,” tends to move everyone into a cooperative space and creates a good beginning for effective conversation. Beyond the “no trash talking” clause in most parenting plans, this gives the children explicit permission to love both parents, and by extension, love both sides of themselves.
5. A peaceful setting.
I want everything in the mediation space to suggest peaceful intentions. I have something for the parties to eat and drink, have live plants in the office, never wear red, and place images that draw the viewer into the distance. I often show the abstract spiritual art of Linda McCray which can be viewed at:. http://bit.ly/92pxK0 Between exhibitions, she shows them in my office.
I hope other mediators find these objects from my toolbox useful and will be willing to share a few of their own.