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Have we forgotten how to talk with each other?


The simple art of conversation, but is it so simple? I am passionate about communication and its ability to make our lives better. It is very sad to see how breakdown in communication leads so quickly to breakdown in relationships. Relationships in business, in workplaces and at home. I don’t think in our modern society there would be anyone who could not tell you a story about relationship breakdown and the devastating effect it has had on them or someone very close to them. Relationship breakdown is emotional, time consuming and can be costly.

Have you thought about mediation?

Relationship breakdown invariably is driven by some form of unresolved conflict. Conflict driven by some unmet or miscommunicated expectation.

Steven Covey in his world renowned 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has as habit #5 “seek first to understand and then to be understood”. It is a great way to be effective as a leader and as a follower and the foundation for resolving conflict.

It is always interesting to me when negotiating or preparing for a negotiation when a party says they are not interested in talking or mediating, they don’t have time, or don’t want to ‘waste’ money on that. I’ve worked in communication for over 25 years and I can’t think of a time where it wasn’t communication that got someone (or an organisation) into a conflict and it can only be communication that can get them back out.

In 2000 the NSW Supreme Court made mediation mandatory in many matters (and it is similar in other jurisdictions). In most courts, you need to show that you’ve made a reasonable attempt to resolve your dispute and then you are likely to be ordered to go to mediation anyway. Yet as a legal practitioner and mediator, I have observed that even after the court implemented mandatory mediation 17 years ago! I see considerable reluctance to voluntarily go to mediation.

It seems human nature is still somehow configured to want to “have your day in court”, tell your story and get an external decision maker to set the parties straight. However, research suggests that litigation does not deliver the satisfaction that many litigants are looking for.

I wonder if the core human need to be heard is what is driving this? It’s not a legal principle, it’s far greater than that, it’s core human need and last I checked we are all human whether we are at work, in a business deal or having a family breakdown.

Facilitative mediation has the ability and structure to allow the human parties in the dispute to be heard. The litigation process, in my opinion (as a litigator) is not a great place to be heard. Time and money constraints reduce arguments to the bones of legal principle fact and precedents. This does not lend itself to the human element of being heard and “having your day”.

Those who have resolved conflicts at mediation have reported greater levels of satisfaction and retained their sense of self determination. With an experienced mediator you have the potential to tell your story and to seek to understand how the dispute occurred and resolve it together. I’ve observed that some people just want the other party to know why or what or how they arrived where they did. By discovering what is driving the conflict you come a lot closer to resolving it.

It always delights and amazes me how often once someone feels they have been heard that the conflict or a solution can actually just ‘drop out’ and while there is often a financial or commercial aspect to the conflict it is the emotion, a sense of being wronged or an unmet human need or desire that is driving it.

It’s so important to remember that we are all human, with human needs and core desires. No one likes to feel like they are being shut down, it’s a lot like trying to hold a ping pong ball under water, you can only hold it down there for so long before it pops up and explodes somewhere else and it may not be where you expect it to be. Everyone likes to feel they have a voice and others hear them.

Of course it is a good idea and in some cases essential to have legal advice to know where you stand before you go to mediation, but mediation with a skilled communicator and facilitator really can deliver a more satisfactory result and leave the parties in control of their own situations. After all it is the parties who created the sit