The other day I was mediating and one of the parties was stuck in a position, so stuck and so angry that after a bit she started to cry. Now, some mediators might pull that person aside and let her know that the mediation might end if she could not get herself under control. Other mediators might declare an impasse. But I had seen this type of reaction before when I was an ER chaplain and knew she was in crisis, so I handed her a tissue and waited.
After a few minutes came the reason why she was so adamant in her position: she’d been in a similar situation before and gotten badly burned. She was certain that if she gave an inch it would happen again. Once her venting and truth-telling was finished, it was like a weight was lifted from her and from the mediation. I was able to assure her that our situation was different and that she was not getting burned THIS time. She had to approve any decision we’d reach. Once she understood this, she was able to compromise on many points she had defended fiercely and a fair settlement was reached. I understood this women’s process. Other times I have not been so fortunate and somebody leaves a mediation still stuck- and still filled with hurt.
Sometimes it happens in conflict that fear is the real motivator. People are afraid of being taken advantage of. Some may hold to a position and not even know why (consciously at least) because of some hurt buried deep inside. Mediators can help release this hurt and the person is in a place to see things more clearly. Mediation at its best brings not only settlement but often healing. And if the mediator understands the healing process, she or he can accommodate and even encourage such healing and thus sometimes a settlement is the result of healing rather than the other way around.
Having a single attorney representing one party in mediation with the other party unrepresented by an attorney (called a “Pro Se” party) can be problematic because of the so-called power imbalance. This imbalance is brought about by the attorney’s knowledge of the law or greater ability to advocate or articulate the represented party’s position and interests. Special care must be taken to insure the unrepresented party’s position is heard, understood and appreciated so the mediation does not result in an agreement favoring the represented party. In addition, it may be harder to reach an agreement because the unrepresented party may feel reluctant at times to sign an agreement without fully understanding its legal ramifications or results. An exceptional attorney may be able to explain the legal ramifications of the agreement for both sides while maintaining a position of advocacy. It is the mediator’s responsibility to compensate for this power imbalance by taking special care that the unrepresented party’s position is adequate heard and understood.
Glen Bickford (Bickford Mediation) has been involved successfully with many mediation or evaluation cases with unrepresented parties. He takes great care to maintain a safe environment and facilitate a balanced agreement for all parties. No party will be forced or coerced into signing an agreement without full understanding and full agreement with the mediated settlement.
Clayton Christensen argues in The Innovator’s DNA that businesses decline because in the early stages of a business there are many innovators but as the business gets established the innovators are replaced by managers and the innovators essentially go away. As innovators leave, so does creativity. Without creativity and innovation businesses cannot respond to changing times and decline or die.
While churches are different from businesses in many respects, this above mentioned business cycle bears a remarkable similarity to the church life cycle. After all, what is in churches the often heard cry of “we’ve never done it that way before” but efficient managers decrying innovation? I argue that many if not most mainline churches, especially the rural ones, stifle creativity. No wonder our churches, especially the rural ones, are disappearing!
David Olsen in his book The Americdan Church in Crisis argues similarly that the greatest period of growth for a congregation is in the first 30 years. Hence about the time the managers take over a congregation plateaus and in many cases begins to decline. Managers are necessary, but the detail orientation (do the same things the same way) of most managers (read church boards) almost precludes comfortable institutional creativity thus churches often stagnate when the “managers” take over. No wonder innovative pastors are so necessary for congregations, but so fought against. Innovation is messy!