Preparing to attend a mediation session can be like facing “an unknown”, and unknowns are always worrying. You may not have had much contact since your separation or, if you are living in the same house, you may have actively tried to avoid discussing controversial issues in order to ensure there is a calm environment at home. So how best can you prepare to make such a meeting useful and feel confident about what is to happen and how you will react? There are plenty of ways in which you can make sure a mediation will be productive.
Below are ten things to bear in mind as you prepare for that meeting, remind yourself of them before the meeting starts.
- Aim to say as many positive things as possible about the other person. It might seem tricky if you haven’t been getting on but if you set a positive example it will set a positive tone and invites a positive response. Thumper said “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”!
- Use language which is all about we/ our/ us; not you /your / he / she. Put the problem in terms of mutual language and speak as parents, not separating partners. Instead of he/she or you comments (which sound attacking as if you are verbally pointing at someone) try to speak in terms of sentences which start or end “we, us, or our”. For example, “our issue is that we find it difficult to discuss our living arrangements in the family home” or “the children need us to ….”
- Be the better parent / show politeness. In the event that the other person makes provocative comments let them be like water off a ducks back to you. Ignore such comments and focus on what is the real issue. Show that you are the more responsible parent by not responding to such and bringing the conversation back to a problem-solving approach.
- Acknowledge feelings, without agreeing. If the other person expresses anger frustration or any other strong feeling you can acknowledge the feeling without acknowledging its validity. Using such acknowledging words as “I understand that you feel angry / frustrated / upset”, or “it’s clear that you feel…” before going on to say but what we need to focus on is….. [ the issue] .Bringing the conversation back to the problem at hand gently.
- Give them the problem. It is quite a powerful thing to put the problem in the other person’s hands and ask them to come up with a solution which works for both of you rather than trying to impose a solution on them, to which they may be resistant simply because it comes from you. You don’t have to accept their solution, if there are good points or reasons as to why it won’t work they can be put in factual neutral terms and a revised mutually acceptable solution worked on together
- Listen carefully. This may sound obvious but when people feel under pressure the “flight or fright” response kicks in and this makes them less able to think rationally, or not listening except to prepare a response. So pause, really listen to understand where the other is coming from and show that you have listened by confirming what you have heard before you respond. Try to stay calm. If you feel you are becoming agitated then ask if you can take a quick break to help you feel calmer. Some deep breathing, or other relaxation techniques, can be helpful.
- Think about the key time-scales. Bear in mind the possibility that in mediation you can come up with both short-term and longer-term solutions. It is best in the first session to focus on the short-term as the longer-term may take care of itself and there may not be time to deal with everything in one session. Before you go into mediation think about what key periods are relevant for the purpose of the arrangements you’re putting in place. For example, is there a particular deadline by which certain decisions have to be made? They should take priority over other matters which can be flagged up to be dealt with on another day.
- Priorities and compromises. Identify what is important to you and what is important to them, they may be different. In the mediation itself you will probably learn what is most important to them if you do not know beforehand, listen out for it and think about how you can each achieve what is important to each of you, so say for example.. I’d be happy to do… (what’s important to you) if you’re willing to do… (what’s important to me)
- What if you are unhappy with the way the mediation is conducted? If in the course of mediation you feel the discussion is unbalanced or you are not being heard or being interrupted be brave enough to ask the mediator for some time out and to express clearly your concerns to the mediator. Even if you feel it is something very small, or silly, the mediator, or your lawyer, will be happy to help make things better for you, if they can.
- Endings and double checking. At the conclusion of the session ask the mediator to summarise any proposals to give you time to take a note of them down so that you are clear about them before getting the mediation summary from the mediator which may be delayed by a few days. It is okay to correct the mediator if they have got something wrong or if they are not clear.
Remember the mediator is there to make sure that both of you get a chance to say what you feel needs saying, particularly if one of you is more articulate or used to explaining their position than the other.
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