So, you’ve decided to use mediation to address your conflict. Good for you for moving toward resolution! As you anticipate your first session with your mediator, how can you prepare for this experience to gain the most value from it? Below are some suggestions.
Use the in-take process to inform your mediator. In most cases, mediation is initiated when the mediator calls or meets with you to gather information about your case. This “in-take” gives you an opportunity to briefly explain the conflict and how mediation might help. The mediator will ask specific questions to gather the information that will be useful to them, and you can offer additional information that you feel might help them get a better picture of the issue or conflict.
Understand your mediator.Get to know your mediator’s approach and their typical strategy for working with cases like yours. Mediation is an art as much as a craft, and each mediator operates in a distinct way. Visit their website and ask them to send you their Agreement to Mediate Form,whichthey will ask you to sign during your first session. Read the form carefully to educate yourself about the process and the mediator.
Consider other people who might help. The mediation process often benefits from the input of attorneys, counselors, advisors, and supporters. Who might help you navigate this process? Many mediators are open to having these other people attend mediation sessions with you. Please be sure to consult your mediator and the other party before inviting someone to come.
Adopt a mediation mindset.Think of mediation as an opportunity to move through conflict and find resolution on the other side. Here are some ideas:
- Mediation works best when the parties to the conflict agree to work together in good faith. Be open to communicating with the other party and finding fresh ways to solve problems.
- Think about what you need and avoid adopting a rigid position. For example, if divorced parents are talking about changing the children’s schedule and the dad is worried about losing his weekend time with them, he might say, “My time with my kids is very important to me, so I’d like to talk about ways I can maintain or increase that time” instead of saying, “I will not agree to any schedule changes.”
- Remember that reaching an agreement with the other party reduces the chances of the conflict dragging on or resurfacing in the future. And a carefully developed agreement that can stand the test of time is important in an ongoing relationship, such as within a family or a work situation.
- When scheduling a mediation session, try to choose a time during which you will be rested and alert. Try to avoid times when you might be tired and less able to focus and think carefully. If your mediation session happens at a time that is not ideal for you, know that it might take a little extra energy.
- Take care of tasks and errands before coming to mediation so you can focus with a clear mind during mediation.
- Be aware of how you experience stress and anxiety during conflict. If you know that the upcoming mediation session will be stressful, inform your mediator of this beforehand and suggest ways that the mediator might help to support you through this process.
- Think about your symptoms of stress and anxiety, and learn to anticipate them. Consider strategies to calm yourself down if things get heated or scary during mediation. Deep breathing, asking the mediator for a break, and standing up to stretch are some options to relieve stress and anxiety. You could also ask the mediator to take a different tack to relieve the pressure of the moment.
- Refer to the past to frame the conflict, then focus on the future. Consider what resolution might look and feel like. If the conflict is resolved, what will change?
- Remember that conflict resolution takes time. Be patient with the process.
Bring useful documents. If you have former agreements, court orders, schedules, or other documents that are pertinent, bring them to mediation. Sometimes it’s helpful to have this information on hand to answer questions that come up during mediation. Also bring your calendar to schedule additional mediation sessions if needed.
When you walk into mediation having mentally prepared for it, you increase the likelihood that it will be a productive, rewarding process.
Jennifer Guarino is a Certified Mediator who specializes in family mediation, group facilitation, and restorative justice. Her mediation practice, JG Mediation, is located in the Randolph Co-Worker Space at Two South Main Street in Randolph, VT. Visit her website at https://jgmediation.net.