Compassion: A Route to Realism and to Detecting Impossible Possibilities

So often, both parties to a dispute are incapable of realistically envisioning what could be tolerated or not tolerated by the opposite party. Some people think if they act oblivious to the idea of capability, they could win more. Such behavior merely delays the dispute resolution process, as what cannot be tolerated only pushes more buttons.

Having an approximate view of what’s tolerated by the other and what’s not, is key to getting close to resolving disputes. Ignoring that dimension will not change the pain threshold, but on the contrary, will most likely enhance pain and create more hostility.

What’s negotiable to the other party and what’s not negotiable, is different from what’s tolerated and what’s not tolerated. What’s negotiable is a mental decision, yet what’s not tolerated, is ruled by emotions. When emotions rule there is more likelihood to loss of control, and when there is a possibility of loss of control the likelihood to escalation increases.

Therefore, compassion could be a route to realism. Using one’s own compassion to know and realize what’s tolerated and what’s not is essential to realism and to putting the dispute resolution process on track. Though compassion eventually could lead to reconciliation, using compassion to target realism and discern what’s possible and what’s not, is the bridge to the first step of dispute resolution, which is mere problem solving.

Most people are conscious of their own pains, wounds, and capacities, while at times intentionally, and at other times, unintentionally, not seeing or ignoring others. The role of the mediator is to adjust the lens of both parties. Adjusting the lens means looking at possibilities that exist. That not only will save money through a complex mediation, but also will save struggle. It makes no sense to lay possibilities that cannot be tolerated by either party. Not only it makes no sense, but is unethical as it could unnecessarily extend mediation sessions, and thereby, extend costs. Therefore, it is the role of the mediator to set the expectation from the very beginning, by envisioning and helping parties envision what’s possible and what’s not.

In order to detect which impossible possibilities should be ruled out, mediators could put themselves in the shoes of each party, and after identifying what possibilities are to be ruled out, the mediator could set expectations for each party, as that not only will ensure transparency and adherence to ethics by the mediator, by saving unnecessary time, but also will allow parties to see one another in a more humane way.

Nevertheless, so often, cancelling out inhuman options, from the very beginning, will make parties remove delusional misconceptions of what they think the other party “could have” done in the past. Parties will be capable of seeing each other more clearly and also an understanding will unfold as to why certain behaviors emerged in the past, especially in cases where escalations have taken place. 

Many times, those possibilities hold the roots to insecurity. When insecurities, a natural cause to violence, are gone, ego delusions and dehumanization will shed their walls, and as a result, parties will better start humanizing one another. Moreover, leaving out unrealistic solutions enhances practicality and also creates trust, not only between parties, but also between parties and the mediator.


Alia Ismail

Alia Ismail is a commercial mediator and the managing partner of IMS Ismail Mediation Services LLC. She is a nonlawyer mediator dedicated to cross-border commercial disputes. She possesses a consistent and successful track record for closing deals within the environmental health, financial services, and education industries. Alia holds a Master’s… MORE >

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