Susan has a focused energy, a sincere and trustworthy presence, and a strong ability to assist parties in analyzing the situation while encouraging them to come up with answers that are not only feasible, but often times benefit each party. Lyn and Susan’s practice has been shaped by both professional and family experiences including 30 years in a variety of business and organizational settings such as finance, insurance, technology, restaurants, small businesses, and family businesses as well as experience with not-for-profits such community foundations, higher education, art cooperatives, and religious communities. On a personal note, Susan grew up in a large extended families, is now part of a blended family, and each has worked through inter-generational issues. Their work is underpinned by John Paul Lederach’s writings on the “…Art and Soul of Building Peace.”*
The mediation process isn’t a recipe that can be learned in a 40 hour course. Mediation is a subtle yet organized approach with a goal to weave a platform that will in turn generate ideas and alternatives from which solutions may evolve. The platform is constructed by identifying inter-relationships between the parties. These inter-relationships emanate as a result of discerning the parties’ camouflaged interests. Interests are typically clouded by a party’s material demands. Once the platform of inter-relationships is developed, the mediator can encourage the parties to be “smart flexible,” that is to “adapt to, respond to, and take advantage of emerging …. challenges” and turn them into a workable solution by which each side can live with or even benefit.
One example is a service business demanding higher fees at a time when the customer is experiencing declining service. The mediator needs to uncover the need for higher fees as well as why the customer perceives poor service. Once it is understood that the service provider wants higher fees because their technicians wait up to three hours to gain access to the down equipment, the customer reviews its security protocols. The customer discovers inefficient security processes and amends them. The service technicians are able to gain timely access, costs are reduced and the customer perceives improved service.
The second example is when three sisters inherit a family business but one sister wants to sell it while the other two don’t. The mediator needs to uncover why the one sister wants to sell. Once it is understood that the sister wants to sell because she is about to be divorced and needs money to start a new life. The two sisters then disclose they are only interested in the creative side of the business. It is agreed to analyze the business worth, sell the production side of the business and equitably distribute the proceeds.
Identifying the platform of inter-relationships and interests is not achieved by simply asking the parties for them. Further leaning on Lederach’s writings, Susan depends on several factors to guide their work: patience / stillness, humility, and perception based not only on her experience but also on her senses.
- Patience / Stillness: This involves a quiet but persistent curiosity about the situation and a patient stillness as its background and the parties’ beliefs and perceptions are uncovered.
- Humility: This is an appreciation that seemingly unrelated circumstances are connected. This quality also reflects a basic mediation tenet that mediators do not judge or evaluate.
- Listening: This factor focuses Susan to attend to both the large and small details of the situation. Also listening is using not only what is said but also to what is in the heart of the speaker.
* Beyond Neutrality: Confronting the Crisis in Conflict Resolution. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass – A Wiley Imprint. 2004. Pages 231-237. Print.