Finding Emotional Encouragement to Help Realign a Dispute Situation

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Finding Emotional Encouragement to Help Realign a Dispute Situation

Published by laurence nicholson in Opinion · Tuesday 05 Sep 2023
Tags: mediationadrdisputeconflict
(To listen to this as an audio podcast, click HERE)

Today I am talking about finding emotional encouragement to help realign a dispute situation.

A key question for mediators is whether a party who has no social levers (family and friends) or interests outside of the area of dispute (work or singular interest), can find the motivation to rid themselves of the conflict?

In most disputes, emotions are major drivers, often driving the dispute into long drawn-out arguments and ultimately, litigation. Conflict and dispute is always underpinned by some form of emotion, be it anger, frustration, fear, contempt to name a few, and these can often muddy the issue at the centre of the disagreement.

It is always surprising how many parties are shocked when the real underlying motivations for carrying on a dispute are identified during a mediation, and this is what I consider as the true starting point of a mediation from where progress can really begin.

Let’s consider the mediation process for a moment. Parties are engaged in an often bitter battle of wills, neither wanting to ‘give in’ and let the other win, and bring this into the mediation, usually falling into one of two camps; going through the motions because their legal team have advised it, or wanting to try anything to make it all go away. Each of these positions come with their own emotional highs and lows, and getting to the core of an issue so as to view it from a clear perspective is the first aim of a good mediator within the process. From this foundation, each party can consider their own drivers as well as those of the other party, and put them all into a bigger picture perspective.

Going through this process can see parties moving in and out of various emotions, from initial anger and frustration, to being emboldened or disparaged and even resignation, to hopefulness of seeing an end to the stress and emotional turmoil of conflict and expensive litigation.

One of the main purposes of mediation is to encourage and support parties in reframing the environment away from the dispute and a win or lose mentality, towards a more analytical and less emotive assessment of what the real costs of continuing with it are, and considering the value of doing so in a broader context. Ultimately aiming for the parties to use their combined creativity to construct an outcome they can both live with, is the name of the game.

So, considering this, when someone comes into a mediation apparently without any personal areas that should be more important, such as family or friends or better ways of spending time that gives them enjoyment, what levers can be employed within the process to shift the emotional thinking away from the narrowness of the dispute and onto the bigger picture and what the true cost of the conflict is extracting? Is there actually a true cost to be considered, if there literally is nothing better for them to spend their time on?

My answer to this is that I don’t really know. I have to say I have never come across a party in this situation. There has always been something in their lives that they would rather be doing, or somebody they would rather spend time with, although at times this has been a challenge and hard work to ‘tease out’ of them. I also can’t imagine such a person exists, whose entire life is dedicated to the singularity of the dispute. The very fact that they are in dispute points toward there being something that matters strongly to them, and it is in that area that exploration should be focused to make the mental shift towards thinking about what ‘not being in dispute’ would look like to them and how would they be spending their time in that situation.

One typical barrier to overcome early on in the process is around the belief that all mediated outcomes are compromises, where nobody wins. I have no doubt that many outcomes are not what either party envisaged as a ‘success’, especially when they came in to the conflict wanting to ‘get one over on the other party’, however this is a narrowly focused and subjective view, and not normally seen in relation to the benefits of walking out of the mediation with no further stress, conflict, costs or lost opportunities. Surely leaving the process with those benefits is a win for both parties?

It might not be the ‘win’ envisaged, but I would argue it is of greater value in the wider context, not just for the parties but for all the collateral victims of the litigation process, such as family, friends, colleagues and even the 3rd party business parties who may have managed to retain a business relationship coming out of the mediation.

Look out for my next article in October on the use of ‘Threat/Reward Response Psychology’ in challenges to parties’ potential offers, and as always, leave me comments, good bad or indifferent, by email or against the article (on the ‘blog’ page if you are listening to the podcast).


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