Friday, February 3, 2012

The Story of Max, Elise and Teamwork Mediation

Although born fifteen years apart, Elise and I had very similar lives before we met.  We had both had done a lot of personal growth work, had done a lot of education, and although both of us had very rich and fun single lives, neither of us had married by the time we met at 35 and 50 years of age respectively.
The roots of Teamwork Mediation began before we’d even moved in together. In the wake of 9/11, I noticed that in just a few weeks, the rest of the world went from total support and concern for the people of the U.S. to turning their back on us, just because of the strident way the U.S. government spoke about its fear and hurt. This struck me as so analogous to what happens to individuals who go from infatuation and love to seeing each other as enemies. But what to do about it?
I found a weekend mediation program that I wanted to take as a way of learning better skills for dealing with conflict, both personal and political. Elise decided to take the training too.

Our Lawnmower Story (Everyone had one, right?)

After the training, Elise and I did more than a year apprenticing in a Small Claims Court to practice our skills, and it was here that we began to develop what we eventually named “Teamwork Mediation,” which we talk about in our book. 

The case that started us on this path involved two old neighbors who were also best friends. One of them had loaned the other his beat up, old lawn mower, and it had been returned broken so he was suing his friend! 

“We’ve been best friends for over 30 years, but I’ll never speak to him again!” said the borrower. Our training taught us how to help the disputants focus on the issues, so we could help them decide on the fair value of the item, and settle the case. And I started to do just that.

But Elise is a kind-hearted being, and her focus was elsewhere. “You’re willing to let a 30 year friendship go? For a lawnmower? Thirty years?” We three men could actually feel the lawnmower begin to recede from the room as Elise’s compassion helped us focus on the deeper need: the value of human connection.

They were sacrificing their life-long relationship for a broken-down power-tool.  Elise began to apply the soothing techniques of mediation to the relationship, instead of focusing on resolving the legal issue. Once the relationship was healed, the lawnmower and the legal issue were summarily dismissed by both parties.

That was the first in a long string of cases, in which we began to mediate the relationship instead of the issues. At first the judge would call us on our method, “This isn’t couple’s counseling! It’s small claims court!” But we were having amazing success with our new method, and after a while, even the other mediators began to notice that instead of randomly assigning cases, any case which involved an ongoing relationship got assigned to us.

After some time, Elise and I wanted to teach our clients the skills of conflict resolution. After all, it had only taken us 30 hours to learn to be mediators, and it was really changing the way she and I communicated with each other.  Since most of our clients had ongoing relationships, we wanted to share this new information with them, so we started doing what we called “teaching points.” 

The problem was, mediators are neutral – not involved in the conflict. Our clients were involved, and so the mediator skill set wasn’t quite right.

One of the other mediators came to us one day and said, “You want to be teaching them NVC – Non-Violent Communication.” It’s like mediation, but designed for regular people to use in their conversations and conflicts.

He was right.  NVC was exactly what we were looking for. So we began to create a hybrid form of mediation. We’d use our skills to demonstrate that the dispute could be resolved, and then we’d teach the clients the applicable NVC concept so they could do it themselves.

And Teamwork Mediation was born. 

Is there a “lawn mower” issue you’re dealing with? Have you lost sight of the value of one of your precious relationships over whether the toilet seat is down, or the top is back on the tooth paste tube? Tell us about it…

1 comment:

  1. Too many 'lawn mowers' to count!
    Small claims court seems a good place to start.