The top 3 things that cause mediations to fail.
Why When Mediation doesn’t Work
My feelings about whether or not mediation works leans more towards WHEN mediation doesn’t work as opposed to a blanket statement that it never works. In my experience there are certain circumstances that increase the likelihood a mediation will fail. In this post I will explore what I believe to be the top 3.
–Not being ready or willing to get past our own egos. Most people who come to the table for mediation acknowledge that there is a problem and that they want to find a resolution. That’s important but it is not enough. People also need to go into mediation willing to commit to self reflective work that is often challenging and painful. Mediation asks us to look at our involvement and complicity in a situation. If one walks in thinking they have zero complicity in the situation they are less likely to be able to get past their ego to do this work. The ego is different than our intuition trying to tell us we’re in danger. The ego wants to protect us from any feedback or criticism that we do not want to accept. Being unwilling to engage in this way makes mediation very difficult.
-This point is related to the first, and it is coming into mediation with a good/bad mentality. People often take feedback and criticism as a personal attack that causes an immense amount of shame and guilt. The problem with the good/bad dichotomy is it pretty much gives permission for one party to not have to collaborate because they are the ‘good’ one. Now obviously, yes, there are times when there will be a very clear distinction and one party did behave way worse than the other, but more times than not that is not the case. Or even, when that is the case, the good/bad dichotomy makes it seem as though the person(s) who caused harm are irredeemable.
I try to get my clients to see their behaviour not through an individual lens but as a result of their relationship to broader systems of power and how that affects our values and behaviour. When people think there is only good and bad, they do not want to see themselves as bad and will try to separate themselves from what they think that is rather than realizing there aren’t just two options.
Additionally, often an entire community, organization, company, etc will be implicated in the behaviour that resulted because our values (and how we choose to live them) are directly influenced by our relationship to these systems and how much we benefit from them or not. For example, if there is sexual harassment happening in an organization or company, it is not just the individual who committed the harassment that needs to be accountable. The org/company, rather than just separating themselves from the person who caused the harm, is also responsible for responding in a way that acknowledges why this happened, and ensuring they will take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
–Time. Mediation, like accountability, is a process. It is not a single meeting or a one time conversation. Especially if you have never done mediation before, how can you expect yourself to be that great at it? Like anything, if we expect ourselves to be good at it right away, we’ll probably be disappointed. If we expect other people to be able to process things at the same speed as us, we will likely be disappointed. People need to learn how to be in mediation and be in the process of learning and taking accountability. People going into mediation need to prepare to devote time and patience to the process or it will undoubtedly fail.
So how do you know if you’re ready for mediation? Refer back to this post on how to know if mediation is right for you.