My current favorite way to describe what mediators do is that we provide a space and place for people to have a difficult conversation.
How “big” or “small” that space can be is dependent on the skill of the mediator and their belief about what mediation is and can be. There are approaches that range from purely evaluative mediation where hired “experts” are really providing “solutions” to clients, perhaps with no underlying understanding of the emotional needs, to mediations with purely facilitative processes where mediators will not provide “information” to clients and where expressing emotions may be discouraged as unproductive. I would suggest that family breakdown and the task of renegotiating family relationships calls out for mediators with the skills to allow for the complexity emotional needs bring to the task of separation. Human beings are incredibly complex, with diverse personalities, perspectives and interests. The complexities of human interactions, coupled with the varying emotional states separating families navigate, means handling emotions is a fundamental aspect of mediation. Successful family mediators recognize the significance of working with emotions and effectively integrating them into the mediation process. In this blog, we delve into why mediators need to work with emotions and how this understanding can lead to more productive and lasting resolutions. Note that research, including that of the American Bar Association, has recognized that dealing with emotions effectively is a component of mediator success.
1. Understanding Emotions Facilitates Communication:
Emotions are a natural part of human experience and often drive our actions and reactions. In a mediation setting, individuals come with their emotions, which can range from frustration and anger to sadness or confusion. Mediators who understand these emotional states can facilitate more effective communication by acknowledging and validating these emotions. This acknowledgment creates an environment where participants feel heard and understood, paving the way for a more constructive dialogue. It begins in an intake session with the mediator acknowledging them as part of the rapport building process and extends to the joint session where the mediator can skillfully help a party express them in a constructive way.
2. Emotions Influence Decision-Making:
Emotions play a crucial role in decision-making. When parties in a mediation are emotionally distressed, their decision-making abilities may be compromised. Mediators need to help participants manage their emotions, so they can make rational and well-considered decisions. This involves assisting them in recognizing the impact of emotions on their judgments and helping them see that solutions that align with their long-term interests are more important than satisfying their short-term emotional reactions. The emotions surrounding fear and the threat/defend patterns that insight mediators work with are particularly important.
3. Addressing Emotional Needs Builds Trust:
Mediation involves building trust and fostering a safe environment for open communication. Acknowledging and addressing the emotional needs of the parties involved can significantly contribute to building this trust. When individuals feel heard, respected, and supported in managing their emotions, they are more likely to engage in the mediation process in a collaborative and open-minded manner. This is not an easy task. It involves holding space for the person expressing and the person distressing over that expression. It also involves, in my experience, the ability to know when to give private space, i.e. move into caucus, and when to come back together to “try again”.
4. Addressing the Emotional Needs of the Children:
It is also important to help families understand the emotional needs of their children. Mediators accredited by the Ontario Association for Family Mediation are required by their Standards to do so. Talking about how the children have been impacted by the separation, and the anticipated needs they will have in the foreseeable future is grounding to parents who truly want the best for their children but are unable to figure out the “how” to do it. Mediators can provide information about the impact on children, talk about communication and even how to talk to the children and support their healing.
5. Promoting Emotional Healing and Closure:
Conflict around the time of separation often leave individuals emotionally wounded. Mediation is an opportunity to not only resolve the dispute but also facilitate emotional healing and closure. Mediators who work with emotions can help parties express their feelings, acknowledge the impact of the conflict on them, and find a path forward that promotes healing and closure. This not only aids in resolving the present conflict but also in preventing future disputes.
6. Emotions Drive Sustainable Agreements:
Ultimately, a successful mediation results in a mutually agreed-upon resolution that stands the test of time. When emotions are effectively integrated into the mediation process, agreements are more likely to address the underlying emotional concerns of the parties. This leads to more sustainable and enduring resolutions that have a higher likelihood of being honored and respected by all involved.
In conclusion, emotions are an integral part of mediation, and mediators who recognize and work with emotions can create a more productive and empathetic mediation environment. By understanding, acknowledging, and addressing emotions, mediators can guide parties towards solutions that are not only legally sound but emotionally safe and conducive to lasting peace and harmony. This is particularly important where there are children who will be impacted for years to come.