March Madness, like a recent mediation session, is over. At the conclusion of a mediation or collaborative process, when the agreement has been crafted and tweaked and signed, I often linger a bit and observe how people leave the process. I’ve seen the gambit from hugs and tears, to a business-like expression of appreciation. Sometimes the pain is still too raw and fresh and people just want to slip away as quickly and quietly as possible. But it’s always in marked contrast to what routinely happens at the end of a long and grueling trial. There’s a little dance we all do as we exit the courtroom to see who’s going to ride which elevator because God knows we’re not riding down together. (I’ve often wondered how we can possibly expect people to skillfully co-parent together afterwards).
I finished a case recently and congratulated both husband and wife for their hard work and thanked them for the privilege of assisting people so honorably motivated. I shook their hands and headed toward my office. One of the issues for this couple was the disposition of the season tickets to their alma mater’s sporting events. They had agreed to maintain the tickets and alternate the right to attend games. Now, knee deep into March Madness, the sports enthusiasts’ conversation drifted to who was playing next. As they were leaving the conference room, I heard the husband say, “I was thinking we could get together this weekend to watch the game.”
I smiled. This case, like most, had its challenges. But they had persevered and although each had compromised here and there, both felt reasonably satisfied and comfortable with their agreement. Reflecting on their process and sessions, it was clear they had used core principles of good conflict management.
1. They were mindful of their “Big Goal“. Rather than having to win on each issue, they evaluated how it would impact their larger objective: to preserve a relationship that would allow them to be at ease with one another when attending their adult children’s and grandchildren’s events.
2. They realized that a good settlement doesn’t meet the needs of only one side. When a settlement endures, it’s because both people invested in making it work. Willingness to invest increases if the settlement accounts for the needs of both spouses. During our sessions, they each factored in the other’s wishes as well as his or her own.
3. They listened. Too often I see huge effort expended on the right argument or persuading the other to “see it my way.” These people put as much effort into understanding the other’s position as they did into articulating their own.
4. They acknowledged emotions. When something felt threatening, it was noted. When it made her sad that she was leaving her home, she said so and an opportunity developed to allow him to recognize her sadness. When he was angry, he said, “I am feeling angry that….” Once acknowledged, we could and did deal with those emotions.
Whether your team was a winner or loser during March Madness, in my view, this couple–and more importantly their children–were winners all the way.
Wishing you wisdom,
PS: Congratulations to Toni Raheem who was the lucky drawing winner for
a copy of A New Earth. Thanks to all who commented.