Creative mediators often do some of the most unconventional things, even while maintaining the integrity of the process. I’ve broken many of the traditional rules during mediations. I’ve brought food to mediations. I’ve held a mediation in my living room and at a McDonald’s. I’ve gone on a “field trip” during a mediation, joined the parties for lunch during the mediation, and, of course, doodled.

I’m always interested to hear how others have creatively facilitated productive mediations. Got a war story? Broken out of the box a few times? Sure you have.

Share your story with us here. While an e-mail address is required to comment, they will be kept strictly confidential, and you may use an alias to post under if you prefer. (Please do keep the identities of the parties confidential regardless.)

So, how did you get creative in a mediation?

4 Responses to True Confessions of Creative Mediators

  1. Katherine Anne says:

    Near the start of my very first solo mediation, the man to my left stood up, leaned inward, and began yelling and pounding the table very hard with the flat of his hands. Forget the “groundrules reminder” — with no conscious calculation I rose up a little in my seat, put out both palms facing him, and said, “Whoa!”
    He settled right down, I shifted back into conventional mediator mode, and we continued with the process. Not only did he eventually initiate a settlement, but on the mediation evaluation he wrote, “I appreciate that the mediator’s control of the situation kept it from becoming a yelling match.”
    I said “conscious” calculation. Based on his behavior prior to the table-pounding, I made an intuitive call that this was a manipulative gambit, not a genuine expression of anger and frustration, and my response told him that I was not afraid of him and would meet disruptive tactics with equal energy. Half a century of experience with people went into that call, relying on my limbic system and both sides of my brain — all working together, in an instant — to defend myself and the other party, protect the process, and keep him engaged.
    All I know is, it worked.

  2. Mother's special kid says:

    When I introduced myself as a volunteer mediator from the community program, the citizen responded sarcastically, “Aren’t you special?” I figured this conversation wasn’t going to last very long anyway, so I had nothing to lose. After a brief pause, I responded in a very plaintive tone, “Well, my mother thinks I am.” He laughed, then asked what he could do to help.

  3. no social life of my own says:

    The attorney representing one of the parties called to bitterly complain about the date and time of the next session. Turns out it conflicted with her social life. I calmly responded that although the mediation would remain at the scheduled date and time, I’d be sure to explain that she was unable to attend because she was having a dinner party. She attended the mediation.

  4. I feel very strongly that most conflict comes about because people are not able to have much dialogue. When dialogue is in short supply, for whatever reason, too much is left up to the parties’ evaluations or assumptions about each other, their own biases and prejudices, and their own perspectives. What you have instead are two parties each in their own “boxes” with the lids closed. It is my job to open those lids and allow everyone the opportunity to come out.

    When I am in mediation as the mediator, I allow plenty of room for the dialogue. By this I mean, any kind of dialogue: accusations, quarrels, tirades, confessions, apologies, information seeking, advice solicitation, monologues, persuasion, and negotiation. I am a firm believer that everything needs a chance to be “spoken” or there is no real understanding. I do not flinch from the uncomfortable, I just keep it safe for the parties to say what they need to say. Once that kind of dialogue is allowed to happen, the parties often understand each other better and are able to let their natural abilities of tolerance and compassion come in to play. It’s my job to bring these people together so they can know each other better and begin to work on their differences from a better relationship space.

    I remember one mediation in particular where both parties were throwing accusations at each other like mud pies early on in the mediation. Yes, I could have stopped them…I could have requested they be more respectful–that nothing was going to happen for the positive with this kind of energy in the room…I could have declared a moratorium on accusations because they’re generally not productive…But I didn’t. Somehow, deep inside, I knew both parties needed to get it all out…get out all the perceived slights each felt…all the disrespect…all the misunderstanding…all the hurt…

    So I sat their between them, agreeing, normalizing, empathizing, supporting, summarizing…Neither party was swearing or threatening bodily harm; they just needed to be heard. Finally they were both done. It was like the two had just run a long race and they were breathless and tired from the exertion. Then one party, the woman, started to cry. I think it was her way of getting release. We women often cry in order to let go of strong emotion rather than keeping it bottled up inside. The other party, a man, offered, “There, there…I’m sorry this had to happen…” And that was the beginning of a beautiful and heartfelt negotiation between the two.

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