The A-Z of Mediation: Non-Maleficence

Scott McIver Articles, The A-Z of Mediation

As we all know, even the smallest of conflicts can drag themselves out and rumble on for some time. During this, we can often get too involved and become stuck in our ways, to the point where we’re perhaps not even sure what started it all.

More importantly, we can actually become quite “comfortable” in them too. We find ways of coping and acting around the conflict, rather than facing it head-on and dealing with it. For example, we may get into a routine of avoiding the other disputant(s), or have a specific way in which we argue with them.

Of course, this is a perfect example of “better the devil you know”. After getting used to a conflict being at this certain stage, we may actually fear making it worse if we do anything about it – “I’ve dealt with it for this long, why would I risk making it worse?” As a result, individuals may not want to address the other party about it directly, or even take it to an outside person who may be able to help. Some people are even afraid of going to mediation because of this!

To somewhat back this up, we have undertaken several cases that have suffered for this exact reason. We often hear of ill-timed or poorly-executed attempts at intervening, whether it be from family members, managers or housing managers. The facilitator may show signs of bias, it might be carried out far too late, or it may just be very obvious that they have no previous experience of conflict resolution. And, unfortunately, this can result in making matters much worse for everyone involved.

However, this is not to say that we encourage leaving the disputants be. The longer you leave conflict going, the more ingrained and downward-spiralling it can become. On top of this, we are more likely to then see a “crisis point”, where one trigger just blows everything up past the point of no return – “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, so to speak. It is actually quite common for disputants to wait for this moment before acting (“if she does this again, I swear I’m going to lose it with her!”) rather than trying to resolve it before it reaches this point. And, by the time they do decide to act, it might be too late.

It is for this reason that we would always suggest nipping conflict in the bud before it becomes a major issue. And, to do this, we would recommend using a skilled, professional mediator, or an individual who has been competently trained.

In addition, all mediators should work towards a ‘Code of Practice’, with many including ‘Non-Maleficence’ as one of the criteria. Put simply, if they can’t sort it out, they won’t make it worse than it already was.

To do this, they will ensure that:

• Everything remains confidential, to the level that the disputants agree
• Impartiality remains intact so that everyone is treated fairly and equally
• Respect and boundaries are in place for all parties
• All parties get the chance to say everything that they want to say

At the end of it all, conflict very rarely just goes away. Fortunately, a good mediator can get all parties working towards resolving the conflict, whilst also allaying any fears of potentially making it worse.

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