Do enemies make better mediation fellows?
By Nigel Chapman
Mediation’s all about bringing people together, but could it be done best with hostile participants? And what about if the mediation’s presented as a lose-lose? Those are two up and coming theories that are causing debate in the mediation community.
The first theory, the one that divides the parties, holds that participants are more likely to come to a faster, more honest agreement if they see one another as antagonists. They will be more honest and blunt with what they want. People who are too friendly will dance around the issue, avoiding confrontation, as they are more concerned with not offending anyone. Those who are more willing to cede ground to get where they need to be more efficiently are more likely to come to an agreement.
It’s a bit like when you and a person are coming the opposite way on a sidewalk, and each tries to go around the other. Politeness often leads to endless back and forth, while an assertive stance, ‘I’m going this way’, guides both parties toward an agreement.
Similarly, a recent Harvard University study shows that presenting mediation as a lose-lose situation encourages everyone to be more willing to cede ground in order to reach an agreement, giving up economic or material gain in favor of a consensus. This scenario is a bit like O. Henry’s classic story, The Gift of the Magi, in which a husband sells his beloved gold watch to buy his well dressed wife a fancy hair clip; she in turn cuts her glorious locks to buy him a watch fob. Both gifts are rendered useless, but the husband and wife receive invaluable understanding and love.
While mediation can’t guarantee love, it also finds that by putting relationships above personal gain, participants reach a fuller, more equally beneficial resolution. In the end, those relationships help both sides grow in new ways, an evolution that can ultimately lead to mutual gain.
The lose-lose approach becomes a win-win outcome.