Speak to just about any mediator and they will tell you stories of cases where their patience was tested to the absolute maximum – cases where the solution seemed so blindingly obvious that everyone in the world outside of the disputants might be able to see it. But, due to the fact that they’re so caught up in the conflict, they are simply oblivious to any possible resolution.
Of course, one of the benefits of mediation is that the participants are in full control of the outcome. As part of this, the mediator cannot lead them in a certain direction or interfere in any way.
So what benefits can patience bring to the mediation process?
When time is available to them, it gives the participants more chance to say what they need to say. And, by just taking a step back and listening, the mediator can begin to form a clearer picture of their positions, interests and needs. This can help with the building of summaries and agreements, making sure that everyone benefits from them.
More opportunity for discussion
It also allows for the participants to talk over the issues between themselves, without outside interference and any pressure to progress. They can each suggest ideas, reject things that don’t work for them, and move forward with things that do, whilst also clearing up any miscommunications. This will lead to a greater opportunity for a truly win/win outcome.
Apologies and forgiveness
The extra time allowed for discussion at their own pace could make the difference in getting their overall points across, as well as in the building of empathy between the participants. If this is achieved, it could result in apologies and concessions being made and accepted, which could break important ground in the dispute.
Again, progressing with a pace that they are comfortable with can allow for extra thinking time and opportunities for reflection. They might begin to step back and assess their own actions, and there might be less “heat of the moment” actions. Going forward with a different perspective could also be a crucial step in the mediation process.
When one of these benefits is achieved, it could well be the breakthrough that the mediation was waiting for. It could be the difference between an agreement and a non-agreement, or it could just be that communication drastically improves, opening up possibilities further down the line.
Either way, patience is a virtue. And it is certainly no different in mediation.
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