Mediator Moves - Enabling Talks and Busting Deadlocks

Mediator Moves - Enabling Talks and Busting Deadlocks

Mediator Moves - Enabling Talks and Busting Deadlocks

Conflicts or disagreements can get stuck and cause discomfort when the people in the conflict make opposing demands.  But skilled negotiators and those who enlist the help of mediators can overcome roadblocks by looking past each person’s ‘ask’ and getting down to the reasons behind those asks. This sets the stage for real progress and great deals that can satisfy the needs of each side and even create value.

By Ehsan Ali and Alnoor Maherali

Conflicts and disagreements are an everyday part of life. Unfortunately, dealing with conflict is not something that is generally taught to people. Instead, we learn to muddle through via a process of trial and error, mainly error. For most people, this results in a general level of discomfort and an aversion to conflicts. 

A key source of that discomfort arises from the fact that many of these situations can quickly get stuck - one person demands something and the other person insists on the exact opposite. Neither side wants to budge. A battle of wills ensues with one or both sides walking away unhappy. And the cycle continues. 

A good example of this is two neighbors who share a yard.  One of them wants to put up a hedge to separate the two properties. The other strongly objects to the idea. In a situation like this, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine any outcome that would make both neighbors happy. But in order to get there, we must first understand WHY they’re stuck.

As dispute resolution experts, the mediators at Venn Mediation refer to what each person is asking for as their ‘position.’ The position is WHAT a person says they want. And in most cases, especially when two sides are stuck, positions are opposites. For example:

  • “She wants the hedge; I do not”
  • “He wants the price to be higher; I want it to be lower”
  • “She wants sole custody of the kids; I want sole custody of the kids”

When the conversation focuses on WHAT people say they want, things tend to get stuck very quickly. Skilled mediators know that in order to get people unstuck, they need to look past each side’s position and focus on their interests. ‘Interests’ are defined as someone's needs, desires, concerns, or fears. In essence, it is not what they want but WHY they want it.

What makes many negotiations or mediations challenging is that people rarely start by sharing  their interests (the why), but usually start by stating their positions (the what). And the more they defend their positions against the other person, the stronger they become attached to them. This happens for a number of reasons - It feels more natural to ask for what we want rather than share the reasons why we want it. We may feel that if the other side knows what is important to us, they may use it against us. Or we may not think it is helpful to bring up our own reasons for what we are seeking. Regardless of the reason, if we ignore interests in a conflict it is harder to get any outcome, let alone a good one.  

Bringing interests into the discussion can open up a world of possibilities and even create value. If we return to our two neighbors and ask them ‘why,’ we may find out that the neighbor who wants the hedge likes to do yoga in their backyard and wants privacy. And we might learn that the neighbor who does not want the hedge has allergies. Even though they have been fighting for months about a hedge, it turns out that they don’t actually need one - their conflict could be solved with something as simple as a fence.

At Venn Mediation, we help our clients think about their interests and communicate those with each other so that they don’t get stuck in their positions. In fact, the very first question we ask in a mediation is, “What brought you to the mediation and what is the outcome you’re hoping to achieve?” This moves the discussion along, gets people thinking creatively, and in many cases leads to the discovery of mutual interests. Which helps our clients start working together to solve the problem and can lead to great outcomes that satisfy everyone.

If you or anyone you know is stuck in a disagreement or conflict, contact Venn Mediation. 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 make tough conversation easier and we would love to help.

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