“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
About 10 years ago I participated in a Myers Briggs workshop. If you aren’t familiar with Myers Briggs, it is a personality assessment that helps us understand our strengths and challenges and why we do what we do. Our instructor explained that while we can do things outside of our strengths it will feel like we’re writing with our left hand. It works (sort of) but it doesn’t feel natural. During one or our breaks she came up to me and said “you don’t really have the personality of a lawyer. Do you feel like you’re writing with your left hand?” I had to chuckle. That was a pretty good description. While I was drawn to the analytical side of the law I never felt fully comfortable with the adversarial side of the practice. It was writing with my left hand. I am intuitively wired to be a fixer not a fighter.
That is why I love mediation. When I came back to work after having my girls I decided I did not want to fight for a living, so I took my first mediation training and it was like coming home. Mediation gave me the tools to craft a solution that fit my clients’ needs without the limitations of the court system.
Most of my practice involves working with families, either couples going through divorce or families working to take care of elderly relatives. Whether it is parents taking care of their kids or kids taking care of their parents there are common themes that make mediation a much healthier process for these families. A fear of criticism leads to a lack of transparency. The lack of transparency leads to mistrust. Poor communication leads to assumptions. Assumptions lead to resentment which makes communication more difficult. And on and on. Most importantly, in all these cases, is the relationships that will continue beyond the conflict. Our family is supposed to be our home base, our safe place. When that is disrupted it hits us at our core and the resulting stress can create rifts that the traditional legal system set up to address.
Mediation offers a better process. What I notice as the mediator is that in most cases people want to do better but they don’t know how. Fear, anxiety, past breaches of trust all push us into the behaviors described above. The mediation process allows us to address how we got into the situation but rather than looking at blame for the past we shift our focus to what we need to do to make the future better. The conversation starts with a discussion of values and goals for the family, what life looks like 6 months, 1 year, 5 years down the road. We discuss what we need to do to learn from past mistakes to avoid repeating them. This helps us create a plan to ensure transparency, accountability, and improved communication. We talk through how they are going to work together in practical, day to day terms.
By consciously designing new parameters for the family we can break the old patterns that brought them to mediation. By designing this process together, we give the couple or family a model to use to resolve future conflicts. Once we have our plan then we can put it into the appropriate legal documents for approval by the court.
This article first appeared in the August/September issue of Women of Worth.