Mediators Can Help HIGH Conflict: Fact or Fiction?

Mediators fact or fiction conflictPeople tell me “I want to refer someone to you but they are really high conflict so there’s no way mediators could work for them.”

Then, I take a deep breathe, resist the urge to say something like “that doesn’t make sense!” and ask them to tell me about the situation.

FICTION: Mediators only works for couples who are amicable.

FACT: Mediation is a structured process that helps people in conflict come to resolution.

Mediators Say, Bring on the Conflict!

Divorcing spouses who hate each other?

Yup.

Co-parents who not have spoken face-to-face in years.

Yes.

Teenagers who “hate” their parents?

Uh-huh, that too.

Mediation is all about resolving conflict! Low conflict, high conflict, and everything in between.

Can mediation resolve all disputes? Of course not. But it sure can more than the public realizes.

Divorce Mediation Fiction

Conventional thinking about mediation is that it can’t work because the parties are:

  • Too combative
  • All about blame
  • Unwilling to consider another point of view
  • Resentful and vindictive

And this is just a sampling.

Challenging dynamics for sure.

Family Mediation Fact

I recently mediated a case with all those factors in play.

After nine months of paying attorneys thousands of dollars to try to settle and prepare for a trial these clients had made no progress. Not even one itty-bitty agreement.

As a last ditch effort to avoid a drawn-out ugly and exorbitantly expensive trial they try mediation. The wife walks in and starts the session by announcing that she has no confidence in the process, and this will likely be the first — and last — session.

Not an ideal starting point!

The tension was palpable.

It took some time, and lots of structure and intervention from me, but slowly they started to hear each other. They started to increase understanding of one another (NOTE: understanding is different than agreeing!). What started with hostility and blame often shifted to listening and problem-solving. And they started making decisions.

And the mediation fact is they successfully divorced.

The first step of any effective mediation must be two (or more) parties’ voluntary engagement in the process. Once engaged, family and divorce mediators have the skills and experience required to help folks navigate their disputes.

Mediators facilitate safe, constructive communication by:

  • Creating a safe and structured physical environment
  • Modelling and teaching effective communication skills
  • Helping clients stay calm
  • Guiding clients toward mutually satisfactory problem-solving (click here to learn more about positions and interests)
  • Teaching effective proposal-making approaches
  • and more….

Interested in learning some of the tools mediators use to facilitate high conflict mediations? Click here.

Mediator Facts Matter…

My favorite mediations are those involving a high conflict situation. It’s when I have the greatest positive impact for my clients, and their children (if they have any).

In the end, having a skilled mediator increases the chances the parties will be able to:

  • Remain the decision-makers in their own dispute (particularly important with child-related matters)
  • Save a lot of money
  • Save a lot of time
  • Save a lot of heartache going through an adversarial litigation process
  • Improve their communication
  • Decrease long-term conflict
  • Move forward with certainty about the outcome of their conflict
  • Repair some or all of the relationship
  • And when children are involved, develop much better child-centered parenting plans (stay tuned for an upcoming post on mediating with parents in a high conflict relationship)

The FACT of the matter is this: Mediation IS an effective model for resolving high conflict disputes.

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About the Author ()

I help families resolve conflict through family mediation and divorce mediation in Massachusetts. My services include mediation for co-parenting disputes, marriage problems, separation and divorce, parents and teenagers, and family conflicts. The goal of my mediator's blog is to help teach or remind readers of helpful communication and conflict resolution techniques that can be used in their relationships. I live in Natick, MA with my wife, son and dog and mediate throughout the Metrowest Boston region. Please note that my name is spelled Ben Stich, not Ben Stitch.

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