A Meditation on Mediation Part I: For Plaintiffs

I used to be the guy who tried to do everything. The guy who tried to empathize with the client in a tough situation. Who came in solemnly and – as I thought at the time – respectfully, even reverentially. It seemed like the right approach – that’s how I could meet people where they were, right? And a lot of folks – mediators among them – do that now.

A few years ago I realized that there are limits to what even the best mediator can or should do. I can’t fix what has happened. I can’t say I’ve been through what you’re going through, or even that I understand how deeply your pain runs. I’m just a person, like you, and I’ve had my own life’s journey. To pretend that I know what you’re experiencing does a disservice to both of us.

See, the difficult part of mediation is that you can’t put a price on life, really. What does it mean that you won’t see your child grow up now? How can anyone say “that’s worth this many dollars”? They can’t. To be blunt, here’s what mediation can’t give you:

  • Justice
  • Vindication
  • Satisfaction
  • Closure

That may sound odd for a professional mediator to say, but think about: all of those things are invisible, and a mixture of ideas and feelings. They’re closely connected to what you think and how you feel about what has happened (and may still be happening) to you. Dealing with them, processing them, living with and through them: these things take time, personal work and often therapy. Healing is your work, the goal before you, whatever the injury.

So why even go through mediation? Because often healing is protracted, and recovering from catastrophes doesn’t happen overnight. Moreover, your earning potential can be affected, and treatment – whether physical or psychological – is not cheap, particularly when extended. What mediation gives you is the best shot at securing the means to offset the cost of your recovery.

But I learned that even those suffering from terrible tragedy don’t want or need me to act sad when I’m around them. If anything, doing so may actually make them feel worse. The last thing I want to do is add to the burden they feel.

So when you meet me, you’ll find that I’m both considerate and also essentially a happy person. I’m not here to be anything but who I am for you in this moment of pain, and to bring the full set of my skills and expertise to bear on the challenge of mediation.

Because when I enter a mediation I have one goal: to get you the highest number the people on the other side of the table are willing to agree to. That’s what I do best. In fact, it’s the only thing I bring to the situation.

Now, I am very good at it. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone else with the combination of know-how, tenacity and patience I bring to the negotiating table. I’ve got this. What that means is that you can leave that task in my hands.

And I know that sometimes, even if it’s not to the extent or degree you wish, some acknowledgement of the other party’s impact on your life can be a comfort on your road to healing. That can happen; it often does not, at least not verbally. So when you go into a day of mediation, try to remember the purpose of the session: it’s about getting you back up and stepping forward into life again.

I empathize deeply with the desire to do that. I’m eager and hungry to live my best life, and I’ll do anything in my power to give my clients the best shot at getting back to living theirs.