When I was a lot younger I got a lot of enjoyment from reading classic Agatha Christie murder mysteries. Indeed, over a period, I have read all of them and thoroughly enjoyed the genre.
Typically there is a group of people all with different motives and drivers and a victim (or sometimes many) that has somehow fallen out in some way with all of them. There are back stories and twists and turns and suspicion falls on most of the group in one way or another. Gradually the suspicions mount and motives are questioned until, just at the end, the hero of the piece (usually Poirot or Miss Marple) comes out with a brilliant denouement which makes everything clear and the perpetrator is hauled off in handcuffs and justice is seen to be done! The End.
Whilst real life is not usually like this (thankfully), it is certain that peoples’ actions are questioned and, underneath the calm exterior, there is suspicion and often a thought that there is an ulterior motive to why people behave as they do. Whilst it is almost certainly not to cover up a murder, it is easy to be so cynical that even the most charitable gesture is regarded as simply part of some Machiavellian plan on behalf of the people concerned.
Never is this more so than in any form of “proper” dispute. Once an issue has progressed from being an irritation to a full-blown dispute then it is easy to become so filled with suspicion that nothing that “the other side” suggests can be a matter of good will but must, by its very nature, conceal a benefit for them over you.
I have just finished reading an excellent book on Negotiation by Simon Horton (“The Leader’s Guide to Negotiation”) which offers a fascinating insight into the art of the negotiation. Whilst negotiation is very much NOT mediation it is perhaps “one-sided” mediation because the negotiator is partisan. However, the reason I think this book deserves to be widely read is because the author’s point is that to secure the best negotiated deal it is important to aim for a good relationship with the other party, consider things from their point of view and, ideally for all, aim for a win-win outcome. Views I wholeheartedly share and, it could be argued, that mediation is the medication that aims to restore that type of outcome when a dispute has gone bad.
The difficulty I see in practice is that a combination of suspicion, questioning of motive and general cynicism makes win-win offers seem too good to be true. “What am I missing?” is a response that I am sure comes out when a party to the dispute itself offers something gratuitously.
Here is where #mediation is the perfect tool. Anything offered via a mediator can be questioned, reviewed and challenged but at least the offer itself is coming via a completely independent channel. Genuine goodwill gestures can be offered as a vehicle to move things forward but the fundamental concept is that nothing in a mediation is binding until both sides agree so there is no downside in being generous and inventive. Nobody is risking exposing too much or seeming weak – indeed being generous is really a sign of great strength. As Simon points out in the book, if something is offered then the automatic human reaction is to offer something in return. Break down the barriers and it is reassuring how the offers begin to flow.
Leave suspicion and motive questioning to the whodunit genre and consider using mediation at the earliest opportunity. Be a bit less “Agatha Christie” and look for the win-win in your relationships. Albert Square Mediation is here to help!
ADR Accredited Civil and Commercial Mediator, Certified Accountant and member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (former Chair of the East Anglia Branch), university lecturer and trainer and a member of the CIOT Dispute Resolution and Litigation working group.