Throughout the journey of a dispute, including the mediation process, the participants may find themselves in several different “areas” or “zones” (metaphorically speaking, of course!)
These, of course, would be the ‘Past‘, ‘Present‘, and ‘Future‘.
And, in most conflicts, participants are focusing purely on the Past:
“They played music really loud and it kept me up!”
“They didn’t do their part of the work project on time!”
And it’s perfectly understandable. When we have this perception of conflict being a win/lose battle, it makes sense that we’d blame others and try and vindicate ourselves as being the one in the right.
However, when you’re trying to reach an equally beneficial outcome for everyone involved, this mindset isn’t very helpful at all!
This is why, when we talk about mediation, we often hear a phrase along the lines of “moving the focus from past to present.” We’re essentially trying to remove the idea of conflict being a competition, while also trying to improve the current relationship that is happening right here and now.
But how do we go about doing this?
Well, funnily enough, we do actually want to address the Past in the individual sessions to begin with.
“What’s been going on from your point of view?”
And, while we do want to build an understanding of the dispute to this point, we don’t want the parties to spend too long in this frame of mind for the aforementioned reasons.
We may also start to see another area introducing itself, that of ‘Elsewhere’, as opposed to ‘Here‘.
Rather than focusing on just the parties themselves and the situation they are in, we may hear reference to other places, such as incidents that happened on social media or at work parties. They may even give each other evils in the car park or at the gym!
Others may start to get blamed too, whether this be the manager, other colleagues, or another individual not directly involved in the dispute.
Again, this is great to build up an understanding of the conflict, but still not that helpful in finding a resolution!
So how do we get them into the ‘Here’ and ‘Now’?
During the joint session, however, we now want the parties to start looking at what’s going on in the Present.
Whether this be communicating through the mediator, or through direct communication with each other, we want to start finding out what’s happening right now.
This will include how the dispute makes the parties feel, what they’re thinking right now, and what they want to say to the other party or parties (without shifting back to what happened previously!) This can help us to identify the underlying interests and motivations behind the statements (or positions) that they are marking.
One such technique to achieve this is Reframing (which you can read more about here). Here, we are attempting to change how these thoughts and statements are presented so that they are more likely to support a resolution, without actually affecting the meaning.
And, once the parties have left the historical stuff behind, we can then start to look at what they want to happen in the Future. This is, of course, where we start to build the agreement.
By putting together an agreement that is achievable, measurable and future-focused, they can then begin to address what they are wanting at this exact moment in time, as well as what they want going forward too.
We can then also start to reintroduce the ‘Elsewhere’ section: how they are around other people in the office, how they incorporate the management team, and how they communicate outside of the office. So, in this sense, this part has come full circle: we initially want to strip this part away to focus only on what is Here and Now, before allowing it back in once it is appropriate to do so.
And, by doing all of this, we can hope to move the participants away from the Past and into the Future, via the Present, while also building a better relationship with which to move forward and work on.