Cliff Edges

What on earth have cliff edges got to do with mediation, indeed anything other than places to avoid and where Jed Mercurio leaves us every Sunday night at the moment?

Well quite a lot I think. Clients who reach an agreement realise, albeit often unconsciously, that they are approaching the end of one thing and teetering on the verge of another. The problem is that, however bad it may have been, the relationship which has ended and the whole life bound up with it, for most people, represents a degree of safety. It’s the known, Most of us lack a true yen for the unknown and the unexplored.

How many times as a divorce lawyer do you come across the client who has been fully with you every step of the way during negotiations but has a wobble if not a major meltdown when handed the pen to sign on the dotted line of the application for a consent order? I know it used to happen to me. When I’m mediating, I can feel the fear in the room sometimes when we are almost at the point of a deal being struck. As I stand at my flip chart, pen poised over the final calculation, one or other mediation client often goes back to a point which was covered and fully discussed a session ago.

That’s when the magical reality belief that all decision making can be handed over to a judge may kick in despite the fact that statistics show that judges only actually decide a tiny percentage of financial cases. The whole system depends indeed on parties reaching agreement somewhere along the line.

As a mediator, you need to see the wobble coming, You need in fact I think to address the worries at as early a stage as  possible. You owe it to your mediation clients to acknowledge that they are engaged in a difficult process. It’s not just that whatever people decide to do will determine their financial future (which is quite scary enough) but also that in arriving at a final decision about what they do, people are also truly ending their relationship. That’s when the while edifice built as a joint endeavour comes tumbling down. Whilst there may well be elation at the thought of a new future, that’s a sad place for many people. It’s when you have to face up to the fact that all those dreams and plans you had together now become a solo endeavour or a first step along the road with a new partner when you have learnt that life can make a mockery of all planning.

So that’s the time when our clients stand at the cliff edge. Whilst it’s our job as mediators to help them build a parachute so they have a safe landing, we can let them know that we understand that they are in a frightening place and that feeling afraid is only to be expected and something that affects nearly everybody else in their position. And, as good, neutral mediators, we must also understand if they really aren’t ready to step over the edge quite yet.

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