This isn’t going to be a long post but sometimes it only takes a few words to bring the point home. Recently I had a tough week. Tougher than usual anyway. Session after session of pain, anger, disappointment and frustration left me feeling a little burned out and generally fried. I felt like I had been working hard. Then I received an e mail from a client with some information I had requested which made reference to the poem I have reproduced below, which reflected the client’s perception of how things were at the moment. It was a poignant and effective reminder of who really does the work in mediation.

No matter how much energy and effort we put into out mediation work, we still have the luxury of looking in at the conflict and the emotions it brings with it from the outside. No matter how hard we think about how to frame our questions or interventions we still don’t carry the responsibility for the decisions that must be made. And no matter how long we spend with the conflict and those in it, we still get to go home and leave it all behind.

It is too easy to underestimate the courage and determination it takes to face into the complexity of mediation when one’s life is taken over by painful feelings and when communication no longer works. To sit down and face the person perceived as the cause of all the problems and try to find a middle ground. To even be in the same space as them without being overwhelmed.
As mediators we must remember that we are only helpers, witnesses, guides. However hard our work might feel it is nothing compared to that of our clients.

You and I
By Roger McGough

I explain quietly. You
hear me shouting. You
try a new tack. I
feel old wounds reopen.

You see both sides. I
see your blinkers. I
am placatory. You
sense a new selfishness.

I am a dove. You
recognize the hawk. You
offer an olive branch. I
feel the thorns.

You bleed. I
see crocodile tears. I
withdraw. You
reel from the impact.

Enough said.


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  1. Thanks for this, Sabine! One of our Florida mediators, Mike Orfinger, has written in depth about the depth of emotion in the process, especially when it comes to probate matters. Here,, he discusses the part emotions play and encourages utmost empathy on the mediator’s part.

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