It is a defining aspect of mediation that both parties must wish to resolve the conflict. Or at least wish to explore resolving the conflict. Mediation is voluntary. If anyone is feeling that they “have to” then whatever it is we are doing, it ain’t a mediation.
Not infrequently though, I get called to cases where one party is super-keen to get things fixed but the other isn’t interested. There are many reasons why this might be so. It is a routine occurrence in community mediation, less common but certainly not unknown in workplace mediation. It can have the effect of leaving one party “dangling” unable to resolve the conflict issue through a traditional mediation and unable to move forward.
Increasingly, I am asked to work with individuals in such situations, to support them to manage the situation in which they find themselves. Each engagement differs of course but the core aspects of this work are:
Listening – In mediation, I believe, this is where the magic happens and it is no different in working with just one party. As people tell their story, they hear it themselves for the first time, they get to explore it through the ears and questions of the another detached but friendly person. The very act of speaking out what has been squirrelling around in our heads can, sometimes, diminish the size and weight of the issue. Being listened to can be a “healing” process.
Exploring – In mediation we explore with parties, what the conflict has meant to them, what its impact has been, what they wish for the future. In this work, we cover much the same ground but also invite reflection on what it will mean for them that their neighbour is unwilling to engage. Supporting people as they think this through for themselves can help develop understanding and resilience. Sometimes we get hung up on “winning”, as in “I am not going to let her win”. We might explore what “winning” means to that party and what the cost of “winning” might be. I have worked with people who were making themselves increasingly unwell in their desire not to let their neighbour “win”. Generally, people wish for peace and an end to conflict but may need some help to reconnect to that wish.
Upskilling – In mediation we support people to express themselves in a way that is easy to hear and understand. Where mediation isn’t possible this can still be a valid area to explore. We can also look at planning ahead for when “it”, the conflict situation, happens again. We will look at developing an understanding of how brains “work” in conflict situations and preparing a selection of positive and non-inflammatory responses. In many situations parties can get a long way towards a more peaceful existence through changes in their own choices and behaviours.
So, my experience has been that even where one party has chosen not to engage with the mediation process, it can be possible to diminish the impact of conflict and, sometimes, to reduce the likelihood or severity of recurrence by working with the remaining party. That feels like a job worth doing to me!