So often I hear mediation described as a splitting of the pie or a split-the-baby type process. Mediation is not about splitting the difference or giving up something. Do not misunderstand me, compromise is meaningful and may be necessary but it does not define mediation. For most, compromise conjures up images of each party yielding and then walking away unhappy. Mediation is about so much more than a compromise that leaves both parties dissatisfied.
Mediation can expand the proverbial pie because good mediators have cultivated their curiosity and listening skills and use both to help each side negotiate better. People generally do not know how to negotiate. There are a lot of cultural and social taboos about asking questions that keep people from learning information. From a young age we learn that “it’s not polite to ask questions” and as we grow older, we worry that asking questions will make us look stupid. But a good negotiator/mediator has a healthy curiosity and strong listening skills. This comes from training and practice. A lot of it.
Good mediation takes people out of their locked positions and opens them to see the situation from all angles including seeing value where they could not see it before to understanding the other side’s needs and their own to identify how to meet their own needs in new ways. So instead of having to slice up a pie between sides, a mediator adds to the pie whether with more pie or other pie. A negotiation style that leaves value on the table is not a good style for mediation.
Mediation is not about concessions it is about using a skilled facilitator to help everybody get what it is they need. We as mediators must make sure we do not talk about our profession in terms of “compromise” because that perpetuates the myth that people are “settling.” Settling is for litigants in court. Mediation is empowering and dynamic because the parties are learning, defining, widening the picture, listening, communicating, and seeing the situation anew in order to craft a resolution that works for all.