10 Smart strategies for successful mediation
Mediation … like many people, you may know little, or nothing, about it.
Yet Mediation is an effective process that can help you and your ex-partner reach decisions about your children and finances, without having to go to court.
With the right information and the right attitude, you can ensure that your Mediation is a success. You can resolve your parenting and financial issues quickly and effectively, without costly, emotional and time-consuming court battles.
We have put together a list of 10 smart strategies for successful mediation.
10 Smart strategies for successful mediation
1. KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT
Every Mediation is different and, just like other professionals, Mediators can work in different ways. It is important to know what to expect from your Mediation.
Start by asking questions.
You want to learn as much as you can about what will happen in your Mediation and how the process works. Questions to ask your Mediator might include:
- Will I be in the same room as my ex-partner?
- Can I bring a support person, or my lawyer?
- Can my support person or lawyer speak on my behalf?
- If I find communication difficult, can the Mediation be carried out with my ex-partner and myself in separate rooms?
- Will I be expected to sign an agreement on the day?
- What happens if I need a break during the Mediation?
- Will I have an individual (private) session with the Mediator?
- Will the decisions we reach on the day be binding?
- What happens if we run out of time and need a longer session?
When my friend, Jody, went to her Mediation, she assumed it would be conducted in separate rooms (meaning, she would be in one room and her ex-husband would be in another). Her ex-husband had abruptly ended their 19-year marriage and she was still highly emotional.
When she walked into the Mediation and saw her ex-husband sitting there, in the same room, she felt so shocked and upset that she could barely use her voice. She describes it as ‘the most disempowering moment of my life’.
The Mediator eventually recognised that there was a problem and shifted the parties into separate rooms. However, it took some time for Jody to compose herself and be able to effectively participate in the Mediation.
So, don’t be afraid to ask your Mediator questions ahead of time. Arm yourself with knowledge, so that you do not have any unexpected surprises on the day. The more knowledge you have, the more likely you will experience successful mediation.
2. PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE
Abraham Lincoln once said:
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.’
Preparation is the key to successful mediation. This is particularly true when it comes to Mediation.
So, to get the most out of your Mediation, don’t turn up unprepared. Spend some time preparing and writing notes that you can take with you. For example, write down a list of the agenda items you want to talk about, so that you don’t forget to address something important on the day.
Think about the issues you would like to resolve and some possible solutions to those issues. Try to consider your ex-partner’s point of view, what their position might be and how they might react.
If it feels like you and your ex-partner are miles apart in terms of resolving certain problems, try to come up with creative solutions. What might the middle ground look like? How much are you willing to negotiate? What is your ‘bottom line’?
This preparation might take some time and energy, but it will be a lot easier for you to do this exercise in advance, in the comfort of your home, rather than in the heat of the moment during Mediation.
This is your chance to think laterally and find solutions tailored to your family’s individual circumstances. You will not have this opportunity if decisions are imposed by a court.
3. LEAVE THE PAST BEHIND
Look forward, not back.
During Mediation, it is very easy to bring up the past, especially if you are feeling hurt or angry. But this may increase tension and cause further conflict. For example, imagine if you made this statement during Mediation:
‘You have never been involved in any part of the children’s lives. You left it all up to me and now suddenly you want to be involved and pretend to be a good parent.’
This kind of statement is likely to make your ex-partner feel personally attacked and blamed. They are likely to react defensively and may even respond with an equally critical statement of you. This will not make either of you feel positive about working together to find solutions.
Imagine instead if you were to say this:
‘I propose you pick up the children every second weekend on Friday and return them to school on the Monday. I would like to try this for the first six months and then re-visit this arrangement with a view to increasing the nights gradually as the children get older.’
Can you see how the second statement is more respectful and solution focused?
Try to stay focused on moving forward and avoid blame for past behaviour. If you keep re-visiting undesirable situations that occurred in the past, this could prevent you from reaching a resolution through successful mediation.
4. SEEK LEGAL ADVICE BEFOREHAND FOR SUCCESSFUL MEDIATION
One of the biggest mistakes people make is not seeing a lawyer prior to Mediation. The family law system is complex and your Mediator cannot give you legal advice.
You may have friends who are divorced and you may assume that you will obtain the same outcome as them. But this is not necessarily the case, as no two family situations are exactly the same.
There is no set formula you can apply to guarantee a pre-determined result through the court system. When making decisions, the court will consider each family individually, based on their unique circumstances.
An experienced family lawyer can give you information about your legal rights and entitlements. They can also advise you on what the probable and possible outcomes might be if you choose to go to court. Having this information will empower you to make well-informed decisions throughout your Mediation.
For example, your lawyer may advise that if you go to court, it is likely that you and your ex-partner will have a shared care living arrangement with your children. Knowing this in advance may help you decide how much you are willing to negotiate on this issue during Mediation.
5. HAVE AN OPEN MIND AND A DESIRE FOR SUCCESSFUL MEDIATION
When there are tough decisions to be made, it is common to find yourself at loggerheads with your ex-partner.
However, if you stay open-minded and flexible, the Mediation process is likely to be much more effective. Be realistic. Consider all proposals put forward by your ex-partner.
Many people think that Mediation is a “one-off” process and that they need to resolve everything in the one session. This is not necessarily the case. For example, if you have young children, the time arrangements you put in place now are likely to change as your children grow and their needs change.
Just knowing this can alleviate some pressure. For example, you might agree to put in place interim living arrangements for your children and come back to Mediation after a certain period of time to review these arrangements.
Be willing to compromise. Look at this as an opportunity to resolve your conflict through some give-and-take. The more open you are to exploring different options, the more likely you are to reach a resolution.
6. BE RESPECTFUL
Yes, you may be feeling hurt, angry, sad, shocked and overwhelmed. After all, a relationship breakdown is a time of immense grief and one of the most difficult life events a person can experience.
You may want to talk about what your ex-partner has done wrong – it’s natural to feel this way. Your Mediation might even be the first opportunity you have had since your breakup to have a face-to-face conversation with your ex-partner. You may even be bursting to tell your ex-partner that they are selfish, ignorant, crazy or arrogant. However, this conversation is better had with a third party, such as a therapist, trusted family member or friend.
While you cannot control the behaviour of your ex-partner, you can control your own behaviour. Try to focus on being reasonable and communicating in a civil manner. Hopefully, by modelling respectful behaviour, it will encourage your ex-partner to do the same.
For example, if you are discussing parenting issues, rather than focusing on your ex-partner’s shortcomings as a parent, try to stay focused on finding solutions that are in your children’s best interests.
Being calm and amicable is more conducive to effective negotiations and increases your chances of success.
7. LISTENING IS EVERYTHING FOR SUCCESSFUL MEDIATION
There is listening, where you just hear what the other person is saying … and then there is real, effective listening.
Effective listening is not something that just happens. It is a conscious decision to really focus and try to understand what the other person is trying to communicate. Often, you may think you’re listening, when in fact you’re just passively hearing the other person talk and contemplating what you might say in response. This is not real listening.
During Mediation, when your ex-partner is talking, try to really hear and understand what they are saying. Even if you are feeling upset, try to listen effectively, rather than interrupting or thinking about how you are going to respond. You will get your opportunity to respond and contribute to the discussion when it is your turn.
As well as listening to your ex-partner, you should also listen to the Mediator. They are skilled and specially trained to help you resolve your issues. Best of all, they are neutral and impartial, and are not there to take sides. They are there to help keep you on track and reach a resolution.
MORE MEDIATION TECHNIQUES AND STRATEGIES
8. HAVE A BREAK
Mediations can be stressful and intense. If you are feeling pressured, intimidated or just need a break for any reason, then don’t be afraid to let your Mediator know.
There is no point continuing your Mediation if you feel that you lack the emotional clarity to make meaningful decisions. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you risk making hasty decisions that you may later regret.
Sometimes, having a 10-minute break can be all you need to regain your emotions. You can then re-enter the Mediation and continue the process with a greater sense of clarity.
If you are having a joint Mediation (where your ex-partner is in the same room as you), it can also be helpful to have an individual, private session with your Mediator. These individual sessions are extremely helpful to clarify and discuss issues that you may not feel comfortable raising during the joint session.
9. GET EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
The Holmes and Rahe stress scale ranks divorce as one of the most stressful life events. In fact, it ranks only second to the death of a spouse.
Yet many people are reluctant to engage a counsellor or psychologist to help them work through their pain and grief. But just like you would not hesitate to see a doctor for physical ailments, you should not hesitate to seek the help of a professional therapist to obtain emotional support.
Ask yourself this question: If I was in as much physical pain as I am in emotional pain, would I see a doctor?
The answer is usually an unequivocal “yes”.
Obtaining this professional support prior to your Mediation can help better prepare you. By working through your feelings beforehand, this can help you better understand and control your emotions during the Mediation.
You can also explore and understand what your likely triggers might be during Mediation. This will enable you to approach your Mediation in a more controlled and calm manner.
If you are experiencing financial hardship, there are a number of organisations (for example, Relationships Australia or Better Place Australia) that provide affordable or, in some situations, free counselling and other support services.
10. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Let’s face it. Going to a Mediation is not easy. You are expected to make decisions with someone who you’ve just ended a relationship with. Emotions are raw, stress levels are high and there may be a lot at stake.
Make sure you take care of yourself during this difficult and challenging time. Remember to maintain proper nutrition, get enough sleep, stay positive and know your limits. Have a support network around you – people who are willing to listen and are accepting of your situation.
On the day of your Mediation, you may feel nervous or anxious. This is normal and understandable. Try to be on time, so that you are not feeling rushed and pressured before you arrive. Take a few moments beforehand to relax and get in the right headspace.
After your Mediation, you may feel emotionally drained, especially if there was a high level of conflict. Allow some time to re-centre yourself. Try to avoid doing anything stressful or demanding straight after your Mediation. Rather, take some time to relax and maybe do something special for yourself, like getting a massage, or taking yourself out for lunch.
A colleague once said to me:
‘I know the parties have reached a fair agreement when they both walk out unhappy.’
In other words, Mediation is not about getting exactly what you want. It is not about winning. It is about achieving a reasonable compromise – an outcome you can live with.
Difficult and challenging as it can be, give it your best shot. Accept that no-one walks out of Mediation getting everything their way. Mediation is not an easy option, but it is far less stressful and more cost-effective than going to court.
Approach Mediation with some smart strategies and an open mind. This will maximise your chances of successful mediation and allow you to move forward with the next chapter of your life.