A Mediation Story

They each secured legal counsel in an attempt to resolve the property line dispute. One family had spent about nine thousand dollars on legal fees and the other family had spent around two thousand. Part of their legal council’s advice to each of them was to “not talk to the other party.” They had been neighbors for nine years in a semi-rural part of town. They had socialized, had barbecues together, and each family had a child about the same age who had grown up with each other.

Their respective attorneys exchanged correspondence citing aspects of the law they believed reflected their clients’ rights. The correspondence escalated to threats of legal action, which resulted in both families becoming extremely distraught, anxious, and angry about what they believed the other family was trying to do.

When the dispute escalated to the point where one neighbor was threatening the other with a backhoe, the children were told not to associate with each other. If it weren’t for the fact that the children were best friends, the neighbors might never have tried mediation. That the adult dispute was affecting two 10-year-olds’ friendship was a wake up call, so they decided to give mediation a try.

When the mediation appointment arrived, they decided to come without their attorneys, although they were advised against this by the attorneys. Once in the mediation, the mediators helped the neighbors establish respectful communication guidelines. Then each person described their point of view of the problem, where things had broken down from their perspective, and what they each needed now. This part of the process took over an hour, and as each person was explaining their perspective, new pieces of the puzzle were revealed. The picture of the problem, as they each understood it through their attorney’s communique, changed significantly. When they started asking each other questions, they realized that the others’ intentions were not malicious and in fact, were quite understandable, given their interests and needs.

They pulled out a lot-map of their properties and started pouring over all the possible alternative scenarios that might address each of their interests. They completed the mediation with an agreement, amazed at what had just taken place: Not only did they have a resolution about the property-line issue, they also agreed on how they would describe the mediation process to their children. They all wanted their children to learn as much as they had about the process of problem-solving through dialogue and negotiation. They all expressed great relief about the tension they felt dissipating throughout the mediation process.

Disputes need not be about winning. When different views of a situation bring people into conflict, processes such as mediation, are about respectful communication, fair and responsible reconciliation, and restoring relationships. The problems of the world can no longer be solved by the use of power, or even by guaranteeing rights, though this would be a step forward. The use of force creates only a temporary calm. Rights-based processes are unable to successfully resolve underlying issues or improve relationships.

It’s not whether you have conflict in your life
It’s what you do with that conflict that makes a difference.

Conflict Solutions Center