Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fight Club Part 2: Safety

Safety. In the process of mediation, safety is a huge concern. It’s also hard to make a call on. The mediator’s primary concern in terms of safety is that no one is in imminent danger. Down at Mediation Matters we only stop a session in the case of child abuse, or imminent harm to self or others. That means a lot of other stuff gets talked about. How do mediators make the call as to when the conversation becomes unsafe?

The short answer is that it’s really hard. The long answer is that by relying on my training, I already have the tools to know when something is awry. Safety means a couple things. Safety goes back to the voluntary nature of the participants. Every part of the process is voluntary. When it becomes apparent that certain parties are making concessions or doing things they do not want to do, mediators stop the session. A constant check-in is important. Power plays a huge role in how things are playing out. If the parties are collaborating and making open honest statements then safety is probably not a concern.

A safe environment takes precedence over many other aspects that we would otherwise prioritize in ‘real life’. As a mediator I constantly want to take a side. When I do that I am compromising the safety of the session. When safety is diminished, people shut into themselves and don’t say what is on their mind. If the goal is to have an open and honest conversation, the suppression of viewpoints ruins the process.

Which is why safety is such a large concern. When we can create a forum where people can express themselves openly, then the real issues tend to come out. I have found that one party may want to talk about one topic, but the other party may want to talk about something completely different. It’s not uncommon for two parties to come in and talk about living arrangements to only find out later that it has to do with the boyfriend. People have many things to say. The safety of the environment allows a diversity of views to be presented.

When brainstorming options, it is not what I as a mediator would like to see, it is what works for them. The constant focus is on how to satisfy the parties’ needs. As a mediator I constantly look to give people the opportunity to come up with their own solutions. The safety of the session thus becomes of utmost concern, because we may miss out on key input.

In short. Never compromise on the safety of anyone involved in the process.