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We Are All Storytellers

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

      Everybody has a story. And everybody needs to tell their story. They need to process it internally and make sense of it before they can write the ending.

       How true these words are. When I first heard these pearls of wisdom from a mediation trainer, I did not think much about them. But then I started mediating cases and saw how important it was for the parties to tell their story. They needed – psychologically and emotionally – to explain to a stranger (i.e. me, the mediator) the who, what, where, when and how of what happened. Until they got it off their chest or cleared their conscience, the disputing parties were not ready to move forward and settle their differences.

       I know I am not the only mediator who has discovered this truth. In a November 6, 2008 Los Angeles Daily Journal article entitled “For Litigants, Having Their Story Heard Means As Much As The Verdict,” (we-are-all-story-tellers ) the Honorable Elaine Rushing, supervising judge of the Civil Division of the Sonoma County Superior Court, discusses the importance of storytelling in a mediation in contrast to a trial:

      “Mediation is the ideal setting to let the parties simply tell their story in their own words, picking and choosing the facts and nuances important to them alone. . . . This storytelling can precipitate a decision that is more satisfying and thus successful for all the parties.”

      “However, we should not stop at letting the parties recite the gloomy details of who did what, to whom and why. We need to make sure they understand that if their case goes to trial, the judge or jury will focus. . .on what happened in the past. . . . At trial, very little time will be spent of the future . . . .”  

       In a mediation, I, as the mediator, have the luxury of asking the parties how would they like to see the story end: what ending do they want to  write and then with my mediation toolbox in hand, use my skills in an attempt to make that ending happen.

       In contrast, the judge and jury at a trial do not consider which ending may be more preferable to each party in the courtroom but simply apply the law as stated in jury instructions,  and/or statutes and/or case law and end up where that application takes them. Theoretically, a judge or jury has very little flexibility in creating the ending of the story so that each party walks out a winner. Rather, one party wins and one party loses.

       So. . .the moral of this tale: listen to the story. While it may not be important to you, it is vitally important to the storyteller. And if you do listen, you will pick up what is and is not important to the storyteller. Through her own words – those said and those omitted – the storyteller will tell you what the dispute is all about or means to her. Often, what is not said  (i.e. left out) is as important if not more important than what is said. And by being allowed to tell the story – with all of its gloss, imperfections and blemishes, each party will be able to process her story in her own mind in a way that it makes sense to her and others and then be able to move forward and write the ending.

       . . . Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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