Alas, the nanny had screamed at dad, told him just how globally awful he was, and she had gone to live in mom’s new home: it was as if the parties had a second child to deal with. Everyone was livid. This was barely post-decree, and the parents were back at each other over disrupted work schedules and that fact that dad just did not want his child anywhere near that woman.
Actually there was a seething mass below the surface. To their enormous credit, the lawyers had worked cooperatively to keep these parties out of court during the divorce. They had not used a mediator, and they had settled the case by the exchange of proposals through counsel. The lawyers had not even met each other’s clients before the mediation.
The lid was about to blow off the pressure cooker. These were very persuasive lawyers, with excellent client control. They had really worked on their clients’ desires to settle, and suppressed their clients’ angry urges to not give an inch. Each party felt that they had been drawn into giving way too much to the other side. Now they were hot steaming mad over the nanny situation.
The nanny was not the issue, but of course nobody quite says that to the mediator. Just firing the nanny and replacing her was a totally unworkable solution. Just about every other aspect of the intricately balanced permanent orders seemed up for grabs in the options placed on the table during negotiations.
So it goes, when the professionals focus the parties on settlement. Everyone is asked to reflect on how nice it will be to be done. Every ounce of re-framing skill is used to sanitize any zingers before they get from one side to the other. Even mediators get trapped into this, by suggesting just how reasonable the offers are as they go back and forth between rooms.
Once in settlement or evaluative mode, we mediators loose our neutrality. The parties find comfort behind a defensive wall: I will not give an inch! Heck, I will not give in, not even to that darned mediator.
Thus it was that I found my self in a “this won’t take more than a couple of hours mediation” that was threatening to go to midnight. Everyone was getting frazzled. Each time an offer was made, some twist was added. While movement seemed to be in the right direction, it was glacial, grudging, and both sides consistently snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
I happened to transmit something that really irked one room to the other room. Meltdown quickly ensued, and it was all the lawyers could do to keep their clients in the building. But, wouldn’t you know, the whole case settled very soon after that. Once the angry exchange had take place, settlement began to look not so bad after all.
It is elemental in mediation that everyone needs to be heard. The release at expressing just how mad you are to the other side is sometimes all that is needed to get settlement done. The moral of the story is that feelings buried alive never die. Sometimes letting them out can be a way to kill them, and also settle.