By Neil Evans
People are reluctant to call for help. In our Kiwi culture there is a sense of “ I can stand on my own two feet – I don’t need help. I can work this out on my own.”
That is all very well for some things. When I was young I used to make jigsaw puzzles and when my mother saw me getting frustrated that I couldn’t find where a piece went she would offer to help but often I just wanted to do it on my own. No problem there, but problems and disputes with people, whether business, family church or community, can be more complicated.
Communication is often misinterpreted – the message you think you are sending to me is not always the message I am receiving. We know communication is complex. There is abundant research showing the importance of nonverbal communication in getting our message across, even more important than the actual words we use.
Sometimes conflict arises from misunderstanding and miscommunication. Words and actions are understood in a manner quite different from what the speaker/communicator intended. Even without misunderstanding, our relationships are strained by deliberate personal attacks and use of various tactics that promote conflict.
Sadly, our own efforts to sort out a dispute, which are well intentioned, can sometimes lead to a greater degree of conflict. We may react wrongly and fuel the conflict. We may get angry and lose self control. We may become accusatory using phrases such as, “ you always…” or “you never…” These attempts sometimes have the result of leaving the relationship in a worse state and then the parties come to a stalemate. The conflict is buried (not to be mentioned until an opportune time to refuel it) and the parties will try and carry on their relationship to a large degree ignoring “the elephant in the room.”
It is at this stage I would suggest “Mediation – why not?” Of course the first option is always for the parties to make every reasonable effort to sort things out amongst themselves. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (Matthew 18:15).
When questioned about mediation there are plenty of negative responses (said or unsaid):
• This is too hard or too painful to sort out.
• I would be willing but the other side would not be.
• We’ve already talked about it and its as sorted as it will ever be.
• I don’t want the consequences of a mediation process. (I might have to apologise or acknowledge I was wrong to some degree)
• I am too proud to acknowledge I can’t fix this on my own.
• I don’t want a third party seeing my dirty laundry.
The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” With conflicts in the Christian community unresolved, we as a body are suffering.
Let me put the case for mediation. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
It is that last part we need to remind ourselves about. Love perseveres. Too often we are willing to give up too soon and become discouraged too easily. Even without encouragement from scripture there are some other very good reasons for mediation:
• Mediation has a high success rate.
• Relationships can be restored.
• Parties report a real sense of relief and thanksgiving that the dispute has been sorted.
• The pain of the process in presenting your story, hearing the other side and working to a solution is short-lived in comparison to the end benefit.
I recall having a motorcycle accident some years ago. I was taken to accident and emergency and the initial pain before I could start to heal was a nurse scraping bits of road out of my knee and toes. That was painful but had to happen to create a clean wound that would heal properly. Mediation does involve a degree of pain but the outcome is usually very positive for both parties.
• Skilled mediators will be empathetic and will do all they can to help you reach a mutually agreeable solution.
• Mediation remains confidential and parties cannot use what was said in court at a later date.
• There is nothing to lose but everything to gain.
• Control of the process remains with the parties. A decision can cannot be forced or imposed upon you.
• Mediation can be arranged very quickly.
• Most disputes are capable of mediation.
• If court action is a possibility mediation will invariably be a cheaper option.
Resolve offers a mediation service to assist people in conflict. Let me encourage you, if you have not attempted mediation for your dispute then give Resolve a call.
Neil Evans is CEO of Resolve, a Christian service for disputes resolution. See www.resolve.org.nz.