Most couples will have unpleasant feelings towards the other following separation. The perceived victim may feel anger and /or frustration while the perceived separator may feel defensive. By the time mediation arrives they both are apprehensive of the process; especially over the prospect of open dialogue with the other.
Examples of common and negative perceptions which threaten to undermine constructive discussion are: –
will he even listen to me?
I have such low expectations of her ever being reasonable;
he’s just going to be obstructive;
she’s just going railroad me into an agreement.
Oddly, whilst most people attend mediation carrying these perceptions this does not mean that they do not want the issue resolved. Mediation provides the opportunity for participants to test their fears and perceptions – they are often far from the reality. The common thread that arises is that both participants want to move on and both generally work towards that common goal.
Sometimes, participants feel uneasy going through the process based on their life experience of conflict. For example, a participant may have experience of their partner reacting badly to conflict and they doubt that their former partner could express what they really want to say. These participants might fear humiliation or feel like they are being walked over.
There are others who are more than capable of speaking out during conflict and they can be perceived by the other participant as confrontational. On the flip side, that person may struggle as they might perceive the quieter participant as not being able/open to discussion and simply poses barriers to future solutions.
These are just the perceptions participants hold against the other – most people are apprehensive of mediation itself. The most common fear I hear is that the outcome may be unjust or whether a 3rd party (the mediator) can really be neutral and facilitate an agreement which suits the participants.
How do Mediators address these fears?
Your mediator will meet or discuss with both participants what their concerns are prior to any joint session. Doubts or concerns can be shared during this meeting and your mediator should be able to put you at ease and reassure you that most people have these feelings prior to a session. The common concerns are over not being heard, your former partner being irrational, dismissive, obstructive or dogmatic. Your mediator will take these matters into account when guiding discussions in an appropriate direction.
Mediation is unfamiliar and most find the build-up intimidating. This is perfectly usual, it is a step into the unknown and nerves are usually settled within minutes as both participants are able to convey their goals assisted by the mediator who will ensure that they are able to discuss matters effectively. Should conversation become heated or illogical the mediator will step in to reframe discussions with primary focus on the joint goals of mediation. If discussions become heated the mediator will ask you to take a break.
Mediators set ground rules for participation. If you are concerned about your former partner being dismissive your mediator will be alive to that and will use his or her skills to facilitate and guide discussions to ensure everyone gets a say. The mediator will be mindful of power imbalances and will redress them during the session.
Most mediations have one or two moments where discussion feels bereft of agreement – this is the time when participants may feel the need to just give up. A mediator is best placed to point out what has been achieved (often forgotten by participants who are used to conflict) which displays that it is possible to reach agreement; it just needs to be done incrementally.
These methods employed by mediator before during and after the mediation sessions help participants to manage their personal anxieties and approach mediation in a manner focussed on the future – the way it should be.