Headlines of Mediation Failure Not Based on Evidence

The infrequent, but still too often headline reads “mediation fails.”

This bold assertion, an absolute, is taken at face value by the reader, despite its inaccuracy, which should inspire curiosity, examination and proof, for good reason.

How does mediation fail? Is factual evidence present? If so, how is it measured? Is that assessment or conclusion supported by something other than opinions of the parties, attorneys or media? How so?

Within conflict, people and organizations often get frustrated, impatient and decide progress is at an end or never occurred. “Impasse” is the road sign they see in their mind in front of them.

Their perception and quite possibly their misconception is that further discussion will not produce any type of acceptable agreement nor desired outcome

So what happens? One or more of the parties (remember, mediation is voluntary) choose to stop working towards getting their interests met within a proven process.

Should we then suppose, based on emotion and ignorance, that the problem solving approach “failed” or could we instead dig deeper to research more intelligently?

More often than not, the end of the mediation is no different than someone not taking another step in a marathon or climbing a mountain. The mind quits, the body follows, progress is halted.

Mediation of a business or personal dispute is not “failing” despite media reports to the contrary. It is the participants tolerance for discomfort, frustration, annoyance and pain that has produced a false belief that a dead end has been reached.

Being mentally strong turns into discouragement or anger and people check out of the process.

Consider another analogy. We don’t feel good about our physical shape and health so we start exercising and eating healthier. After a relatively short while, we don’t yet see the results that we desire, the progress to keep us optimistic and excited, encouraging us to continue working towards our vision and goal, bringing us relief and satisfaction, possibly even happiness. So we stop eating right, stop exercising.

Did exercise and proper diet “fail” or did our belief in the process, maybe ourselves and our sustained effort “fail”? 

There are different analogies along that spectrum of thought, from getting out of debt, saving money, becoming better in relationships. The argument is the same.

Society (and the media) can choose to believe whatever we wish, without proof, adopt inaccurate thinking, blame process that has proven to benefit many or we can remain committed in healthy attitude and continue to work when it doesn’t feel good, when we are stressed, if a more pleasing outcome is truly our emotional driver.

When the media say mediation fails participants it is not taking into account the attitudes and efforts, commitment to collaboration, the selfishness vs. unselfishness equation, emotional intelligence, humility, ego, a mediator’s skill level and ethics and many other variables.

In a profession (journalism) that teaches objectivity and credible sources, media becomes lazy and subjective.

This is damaging to the advancement to a discipline and service (mediation of disputes) that does and can help many organizations and individuals. It is damaging to the pursuit of a strategy that can become the primary, default problem solving in the legal arena, and in organizations.

 Dispute Resolution has social science properties and the media is often playing the expert in articles instead of deferring to the different sources within the industry, to the detriment of the readers and society it serves.



Michael Toebe

Michael is a conflict management specialist, serving businesses and individuals in strategically, effectively gaining deeper understanding of conflicts and disputes and working through them more protectively and wisely. MORE >

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