8 tips to make your first mediation meeting a success.
Mediation, while usually far less stressful than a court case, can be a nerve-wracking process. You may have trouble controlling your emotions, you may be nervous about what the future holds, you may worry about being heard and understood.
Frankly, you'll be glad once the whole thing is over.
But, I promise you, it doesn't have to be a huge ordeal. In fact, many of my clients find mediation to be surprisingly empowering, rewarding, even liberating, as they finally discover a way through the conflict that's been causing so much heartbreak.
And the key to this mediation success? As with so many things, it's all about the prep work.
It's all about taking the right approach, right from the start…
1. Pick the right professional.
The whole mediation process will go far more smoothly if you pick the right professional to begin with; some mediators specialize in family disputes, some have more experience in settling business-related conflict. Some will have extensive legal experience and qualifications, some won't.
Before committing to your first appointment, it's important that you choose the right mediator for your specific situation. Don't be afraid to interview a few mediators before making the decision — most will be more than happy to talk things through with you to make sure you're a good fit for each other.
2. Consider whether you'd like legal counsel.
While attorneys aren't always required during mediation, many people feel the benefit of having separate legal counsel, particularly if they don't feel confident in speaking up for themselves. Mediators must remain impartial during the negotiation process, so having someone representing you, and you alone, can be hugely reassuring.
If you feel that you'd benefit from having an attorney in your corner during mediation, talk to your mediator beforehand. Most mediators will be happy to pass on a referral for an attorney that specializes in consulting with clients through mediation and won't be hell bent on pushing for litigation.
3. Be punctual.
This one may sound obvious but you'd be surprised at how many people turn up to their first mediation appointment late, having misjudged the time it would take to get there or having placed too much faith in their sat nav!
But when tensions are already running high, the last thing you want to do is add to your worry by getting lost or missing the start of the session. Arriving with at least a few minutes to spare gives you time to prepare yourself both practically and emotionally for the upcoming session.
4. Prepare your mindset.
Remember it's a negotiation, not a fight. Indeed, your desire for a peaceful process is likely the driving factor behind choosing a mediator over a litigation attorney so prepare to check your emotions at the door.
Mediators are trained to deal with strong emotion and have a whole host of strategies for recognising arguments and heading them off before they even begin. Nevertheless, to make the process as pain-free and time-efficient as possible, it's best if you can set aside any anger, bitterness, or resentment before starting the first session.
Not always easy, I know!
So, by all means, if you need a rant, have one before your session; call a friend or family member, write it all out in a diary, go for a run, meditate, do whatever you need to do to feel calm as you enter the mediation room.
The main thing is to show up with a willingness to listen, to empathize, and to leave the past where it belongs — this is your chance to finally focus on the future.
5. Think about what you want…
It's possible that you have more options than you realized, and your mediator will help the mediating parties talk you through the various outcomes that'll be legal, realistic, and reasonable for your situation.
It'll be a lot to take in.
Of course, no one will expect you to make life-altering decisions on the spot but having an idea of what you really want from the session will help you process the information more easily and give you the confidence to articulate your desires.
As part of this step, it can also be a good idea to set some goals. Take some time to think about what's most important to you. (This is going to be way more productive than focusing on who gets what out of the process!) You may want to think about things like how you want to feel at the end of your negotiation, what you want your life to look like a year (or three, or five) from now, and how you want to interact with the other party involved now and in the future. Having this kind of structure around the process can help you get what you actually want.
6. …But be prepared to compromise.
Unlike litigation, mediation isn't about winning or losing, it's about taking the time to listen and be heard in order to find a fair solution for everyone involved. Of course it's your mediator's job to help find the most reasonable outcome for all parties, but if you approach the whole process with the willingness to compromise, I promise you you'll find it all far less stressful.
7. Get your financials in order.
When conflicts hit, there are only a few things that cause as many sleepless nights as money worries, and sorting out financial matters plays a significant role in the mediation process.
To make life easier, try gathering as much financial information as you can before you attend your first mediation session. And if you don't have access to that information, don't worry. Information sharing can unfold during mediation. Before decisions are made, you will share all documents about your assets such as retirement funds, real estate, bank accounts, and savings, as well as documentation relating to debts such as your mortgage and loan repayments. If you're not sure exactly what documentation you might need, don't be afraid to check with your mediator.
8. Speak up.
Your mediator will likely do whatever they can to make you feel comfortable during the mediation but if at any point you feel worried that you don't understand what's happening, you're unsure of the terminology, or you don't think the process is working for you, don't be afraid to speak up. Your mediator will be more than happy to answer your questions, clarify the situation, or look for alternative options where possible.
While mediation is generally a far more peaceful way of dealing with conflict than traditional litigation, it isn't without its stresses. Entering the mediation room with the right mindset, the right attitude, and the right information to hand is absolutely the best way to ensure a smooth process and a fair outcome for everyone involved. Follow the steps above and you'll be well on your way to success.
For more information on working with a mediator, please do get in touch.