Leaving Them Alone

The young couple enters the mediation room quietly and hesitantly, as most disputants do. But soon the attacks and angry words pour forth. Actually, they are an ex-couple. But they have a young daughter between them -- and many things to work out for her future. That's why they are at this mediation today.

And as often happens at the outset, they think they're supposed to convince the mediator (me) of their own viewpoint. Gently, I turn their arguments back to the two of them -- and they start addressing each other. And their voices now quiet down. They are just talking to each other.

And it occurs to me to do a funny thing for a mediator: leave the room. "You know, I have to go and check on something (white lie). I'll be back in a minute," I tell them and leave. When I return, they are still talking quietly and so I say, "You know, I have some more things to check." Neither of them objects -- they seem to recognize that I recognize they're making some progress. And so I leave again.

For a half hour, I remain outside of the room, standing nearby just in case any loud voices return. But none do. And soon they both come out together, quietly, calmly, telling me they have started to work some things out for their child. They thank me and leave. And at that point I know it was a good decision to leave them alone.

Lesson: A wonderful reminder that the mediator is the least important person in the room. When you can stay out of it, stay out of it. The parties themselves have all the information they need to solve their problems.

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Joshua de Sola Mendes