Creating Value Through Conflict - How Mediation Can Help

Creating Value Through Conflict - How Mediation Can Help

Creating Value Through Conflict - How Mediation Can Help

When conflicts involve important and urgent matters, the urge to protect one’s interests can actually worsen outcomes and destroy potential value in the negotiation.  A neutral intermediary - like a mediator - can help parties feel secure enough to go beyond their concrete “asks” to seek their underlying interests.  In doing so, value can be optimized and in some circumstances even created out of the conflict. 

By Ehsan Ali and Alnoor Maherali

“What can I even expect to get out of mediating this dispute?  It’s going to come down to us versus them in the end, fighting for every inch, won’t it?”

Being in the middle of a dispute can feel threatening and stressful.  Even more so if the dispute is about key issues like financial wellbeing, one’s domestic or personal life, or the health of a company one created or helped create.  When one feels threatened, it is natural to feel an urge to become defensive.  This arises out of an instinct to protect what is important. 

In this situation, while it can often feel like there is no option to do anything but fight, a better alternative can be to come to mediation. While some parties do so without any well-defined hope of a better resolution, that is what they can achieve.  We have seen people amazed when, during the course of the mediation, ideas appear as though out of nowhere – and new outcomes become possible.  The other side – once an “implacable foe” becomes a reasonable trading partner.  And value – instead of being bitterly contested – is actually created as a result of the dispute.  What happened?

Simply put, the parties each saw an opportunity to go beyond their positions – their concrete “asks.”  They instead shared a bit more about their interests – the reasons behind those asks. The challenge is that positions are often mutually exclusive, “We each want the empty lot.” But interests can be complementary.  For example, Party A: “I need someplace for my farmers’ market during the day from 7am to 3pm,” and Party B: “The spot is perfect for our moonlight yoga/pilates classes at night.”  When the conversation moves from the positions to the interests, the opportunity for value creation arises. But often, opposing parties are so embroiled in the dispute, they do not feel secure enough to give any information away, including their interests. And as a result, potential value disappears.

Some will object that they do not trust the other side.  Prior events can encourage suspicion of the other’s intentions and willingness to follow through.  This can be troubling, but this kind of trust is not an absolute necessity.  A deal can include accountability measures like benchmarks, incentives, and disincentives, to encourage follow-through on the agreement.  The trust required for interests to emerge is in the process itself.  And this is where a neutral intermediary, like a mediator, can be invaluable.  In a confidential process, the mediator can ask the right questions to determine what is important to each party, where they have the most to gain, and what they might be willing to offer to get what they want but still make a deal interesting for the other side. And when trust remains an issue, the intermediary can privately and confidentially assist the parties in determining if there is an opportunity to create value.

Sometimes, value creation may be impossible. In these situations, a mediator can assist the parties in dividing the pie in a way that makes sense with respect to each party’s interests.  Using an actual pie as an example: if one side only wants the crust and the other only wants the filling, the outwardly “rational” solution of dividing the entire pie evenly doesn’t make much sense.  In that scenario, each of them is receiving only half of what they really want – and what they actually could have achieved – than if they had been able to articulate their underlying interests.

Mediation can give parties the space to find solutions that leave them better off than simply dividing the pool of available resources between them.  A trained and experienced neutral, like Venn Mediation, can assist in improving communication and creating the kind of trust that enables a party to ask for what they really want – not just what they think they can get.  If you or someone you know is locked in a conflict that seems to be stuck – contact us to learn more about how mediation may be right for you.  We are based in New York but are experts in online mediation and can work with people anywhere. Disputes can be difficult, but dispute resolution doesn’t have to be.  We would love to help!

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