Friday, December 15th, 2017

Staying Present at Contentious Mediation

June 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Newsletters

I received an unintentional affirmation from my old friend Gary.  I’ve known Gary forever, literally – our moms were pregnant together.  He’s very smart, a clear headed thinker and an excellent golfer.  He was describing his golf match (as golfers are of wont to do) in which he was playing for his club against another and was in a tight match.  As the match came down to the final stretch of holes, Gary described how he had hit it close to the hole, was going to make birdie to win the hole, but instead rammed his putt past the hole and missed the 3-4’ putt coming back.  On the next hole he did the same thing, he hit it close and missed a putt he expected to make.

As he told me his story, I couldn’t help but think about how it relates to mediation.

I asked him to take me back to his thinking those last two holes.  I then suggested that next time he has an important putt, as soon as his mind wanders ahead to an expected outcome, think instead, first “I’ve got to make this putt,” followed by “What do I have to do to make this putt.”  Gary, who’s a better golfer than me said, “That’s a good idea Kev.  That’s a great idea.”

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but there was my affirmation.

The thought I suggested to Gary would take him back to his fundamentals, or process, that he needed to follow to make a good putt.  I was also suggesting that he got ahead of himself, and didn’t stay in the present.  By following and focusing on his process he would not mentally jump ahead to the (speculative) future outcome.  Sports psychologists will often talk about staying present, or staying in the moment as a critical factor to success.

Playing golf is much more than hitting a ball with a club.  As any golfer will attest, it raises mental pressures, not entirely unlike the anxiety and nervousness that can arise in a contentious mediation or negotiation.

Staying in the present is also vital to successful mediation and negotiation.  When we linger on past difficulties of the case, with opposing counsel, party or even our own clients, those thoughts influence our feelings, and our presence of mind is compromised,  Thus, we are no longer in the present and the chances of a mediated or negotiated resolution is reduced.

The ability to stay in the present begins by being aware and mindful of our own selves.  We must be aware of our thoughts, feelings and emotions in order to recognize them for what they are and the effect they might be having on our perceptions of the other side, their position, interests and needs.  Once we are aware of our thinking and emotions and how they are effecting our thoughts, and thus a positive outcome, we can set them aside and be more present at the mediation.

While not all mediations are contentious, for those that are, staying in the moment and being present will open your senses to what is really going on in the room.  It will reveal the emotional truth – what really matters to the parties and what the dispute is really about.  Once a party’s emotional truth is discovered, a resolution is usually on its way.

A “birdie” is one under par (regulation) for the hole (in golf, lower is better).

Kevin C. Coleman has been settling cases as a professional mediator since 1996.  He performs mediation services throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including San Francisco, Marin, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Sonoma counties, and throughout California. Contact San Francisco Bay Area mediator Kevin C. Coleman online or by calling 415-488-7609. I hope my newsletter provided you some insight.  If you have topic suggestions, such as resolution problems or issues you’re facing with a case or cases, let me know, I am happy to consider them.


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