Trust the Process, Not the Procedures

Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation by Dan Simon

“Trust the process,” said the mediator. He was leading a divorcing couple through a discussion of the items in their budgets. The husband was saying that he didn’t care what his wife’s cable bill would be – he said it had no impact on the alimony he would pay. The mediator said, “Ok, but just so we have all of the information on the table, so your wife can realistically know what her monthly expenses are, let’s go ahead and put it on the chart.” “This seems unnessary,” said the husband. “Trust the process,” said the mediator.

I saw conversations like that when I was first trained as a mediator and when I was observing or co-mediating with more experienced mediators. Even I perpetrated that “trust the process” line on some clients of my own early on. I guess I meant that I thought that these procedures would lead the couple to a better place – a place where they’d agree on financial support amounts. So I said “trust the process” because it sounded profound. It sounded like “hang in there” or “keep the faith”.

What a misuse of that expression!

That expression CAN be meaningful, but not when it’s used to persuade parties to stick with a procedure that’s not resonating with them. Although it was sort of effective at getting the parties to comply with my idea of what they needed to talk about, it was not supportive of their process in getting to a better place with their conflict. THEIR process, the one whereby people naturally seek a greater sense of strength and connection, THAT process was not the one I was trusting or asking them to trust.

The real process, the important one, and the one that CAN be trusted is the human ability to regain a sense of control and to come to understand each other. But that process starts with party autonomy, not with the mediator pushing or pulling. That process may have nothing to do with her cable bill. That process entails the parties making their own choices about what they talk about and how they talk about it. That process is trustworthy.

“Trust the process” can be a profound suggestion. Trusting the process means having patience with the reality that change takes time, that you often can’t go straight to an outcome and that you can only control so much. Now that I genuinely trust the human processes of empowerment and recognition shifts, I no longer need to tell clients to trust my procedures.

                        author

Dan Simon

Dan is a leader in the field of transformative mediation. He is the author of the chapter on divorce mediation in the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation's ("ISCT") TRANSFORMATIVE MEDIATION SOURCEBOOK. He is a Past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. He served… MORE >

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