Suppose your relationship with someone else is strained, possibly near to breaking down. You are not succeeding in resolving disagreements, however much you try, and in spite of heartfelt prayer. It looks as if nothing will change without somebody else intervening. But rather than resort to calling in “big guns”, you are willing to try to sort things out, face to face. Mediation can open up a pathway for that dialogue to happen in a safer and more constructive way.
The two of you would get together with two mediators in a place that is as unthreatening as possible. You would agree in advance to follow a carefully-structured process. There would be some simple ground rules to make it possible to speak and negotiate without feeling pressurised.
A mediator provided by Bridge Builders would have specific training and would not be someone directly involved in the dispute. Usually both members of the mediation team are complete outsiders. Occasionally it is useful for one of them to be an insider who has a particular understanding of your situation – but it would have to be someone whom you can trust to act impartially.
Working as team with the two of you who are in dispute, the mediators would help you to:
- Talk about what is causing you concern and what you are hoping for
- Get a clearer picture of what the disagreements are about
- Express your own feelings and describe your own experience of the conflict
- Understand things from the other person’s point of view
- Look at key problems, one at a time, and come up with ideas for solving them that seem realistic to both of you
- Offer each other what you feel able, in the way of apology or regret for your own part
The mediators’ job is to keep the process on track, and to create a safer environment. Their role is not to decide who is right or wrong.
No. At the end, the mediators write up any agreements that have been reached by those involved through the process of discussion and negotiation. The mediators will not try to determine the outcomes of the process, unlike an arbitrator who is invited to settle the dispute.
After initial introductory elements, the mediators will give space for each person involved to express their main concerns. The mediators will then shape up an agenda of the main issues expressed, will check whether these cover the ground, and will then lead those involved in working through the agenda in an orderly way.
Mediators try to ensure that there is a fair taking of turns to speak, and that what is said steers clear of point-scoring and instead focusses on people’s underlying concerns, and how they feel about what has happened. So the process is designed to slow down the pace at which you would normally exchange views with someone else.
During a mediation session, you may often find yourself waiting to speak while a mediator sums up what the other person has just said. This gives you a second chance to try to listen and understand. Then, when you have spoken, the same happens for you. An atmosphere of thoughtful dialogue can gradually build up, as the mediators keep suggesting what things to talk about next, and making sure that feelings are expressed and understood, and that constructive ideas get picked up and worked with.
A typical mediation session lasts about three hours, sometimes a little longer, and would normally include at least one break. Sometimes only a single mediation session is needed. However, if a situation calls for a structured mediation process, then it is more typical that two or three sessions may be needed.
- One mediator can be listening or noting down ideas (often on a flip chart) while the other is engaged in conversation with those participating
- There is less chance of bias creeping in
- The mediators can support one another through what can be a tiring process, handing the baton back and forth
- After the session, each mediator has someone to mull things over with, without breaking confidentiality
You get a chance to talk in private with a mediator beforehand, so that you can prepare for the mediation process. Talking about the way you see the situation gives you a “practice run” at putting difficult things into words, and the mediator can help you clarify what things matter most to you. You also get a chance to ask questions about the process that lies ahead, and some help with preparing for each mediation session (there’s usually more than one).
You can’t know that mediation will work – it is bound to be an exercise of faith because the process is not about forcing anyone to be different. However, you can make sure that, on your side, the whole process is tackled with a desire to build up and not tear down, to take responsibility for anything that you have contributed towards a breakdown of relationship, and to avoid blaming the other person. Bridge Builders’ experience is that mediation can help to create a shift in relationships which have got stuck, and can open up new ways forward – sometimes with a profound transformation for those involved. Expect to learn new things about yourself, about others, and about God’s love for us.