When parties are willing to participate in good faith and in an earnest attempt to listen to understand, mediation is usually successful. No matter the outcome, success should be calculated in terms of appreciating options and the possibility of going forward with a deeper understanding of each other’s point of view, because few aspects of human experience are as powerful as the yearning to be understood. A mediator’s empathy, that understanding of what a person is trying to say and showing it, builds a bond through communication linking all participants and confirming that the parties’ feelings are recognizable and legitimate. When deeply felt but unexpressed feelings take shape in the words the parties share and come back clarified, the result is a reassuring sense of being understood and a grateful feeling of humanness with the one who understands.
The mediator’s role is to direct the focus from stated positions and explore what the parties are really interested in and locate common solutions. From the perspective of the parties, it is the difference between listening to respond and listening to understand. Mediation’s popularity results from its general effectiveness in resolving many types of conflict, especially interpersonal disputes, nevertheless, it has less power to alter long standing and deeply entrenched negative patterns of relating.
Parties in mediation must want to identify their needs and interests and have a willingness to share understanding of core principles and motivations, before they can realize the importance of creating a common resolution. Only the parties can give or take from each other what is required to serve their deepest need fulfillment and reach settlement, but some key obstacles to a successful mediation may doom the process:
Mediation is a process that gives parties in dispute a forum to explore resolution of serious issues in a productive and proactive manner, where control of the outcome remains in the hands of the parties. It brings people together, with the help of a neutral, to build understanding and preserve relationships, and provides an analysis and exploration of all parties’ interests. It does not, however, guarantee a resolution or even a satisfying participation unless the parties are at a place in their conflict and in a frame of mind to listen, trust, and relate in a dignified and respectful manner with each other and accept the role of the mediator as the catalyst to transform the chemistry between them.
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