How Mediators can Support Parties in Decision-Making

I attended the Mediators’ Institute of Ireland Annual Conference in Dublin last weekend and what a great event it was with such a wide range of interesting speakers, workshops to stimulate one’s thinking. One of the speakers was a very experienced commercial mediator Bill Marsh from the U.K., whose workshop focused on how Mediators can help parties in a conflict look in a realistic and rational way at their choices in how to deal with the conflict they are in. One of the pieces that stayed with me from the workshop were two questions that he sometimes uses to help people think through their decision-making.

The first question is: ‘What’s driving your decision-making?’ This really is such a fundamental question because in so many cases we either make decisions so quickly that they tend to be reactive or we make them but haven’t really reflected on what it is motivating us to make this decision. So are we doing something because we are angry? Are we trying to ‘ get back’ at someone? Are we acting on instinct? Are we getting carried away with something? I am not suggesting of course that these reasons are wrong or that there should be other reasons behind why we decide things. Some people prefer to act on gut instinct and aren’t drawn towards logical reasoning. But at least, we should be aware, that this is what’s driving how we make this decision.

The second question is: “What would you like to be influencing how you make this decision?” So are you happy about the fact that you are allowing perhaps your emotions about a situation to guide you rather than any sort of rational arguments. Of course the other key factor in this is that you are able to sit back and reflect on this. At times, I’ve seen parties make decisions in mediation that, while they were able to support them with very logical-sounding arguments, it really was difficult to believe that they had rationally weighed up their options and come to that conclusion. One case recently was in a workplace conflict where a mediation agreement between two workers had run aground somewhat, and while in my view was very rescuable or at least had potential to be worked on, one of the parties just seemed to dig in his heels when it came to doing another mediation session. While he even realised that he may jeopardize his job over not getting this issue sorted, he says that he feels it’s ‘not worth trying any further’ and gave a list of reasons that would justify this case. However, a lot of anger and hurt also came across of which I suspect also was playing a large role in how he had reached this decision not to return to mediation. So it’s not about challenging or changing those feelings or reactions but simply about becoming more aware of what one is being influenced by and being able to choose whether to allow this to have a bearing on the decision or not.