Many people want to run away from a joint meeting and avoid the face to face confrontation with their opponent. Yet it can make all the difference. Feedback from mediations time and time again show that some of the best progress is made following a joint meeting – consciously or unconsciously.
So, what do you need to know? How do you prepare? And what makes it different?
Be prepared to listen
Listen as a Judge or neutral party may listen. It can give a different perspective and insight into how others may perceive your claim.
It can expose strengths and weaknesses you have not heard before and you will be able to gauge the commitment to the issues being presented. It isn’t easy to listen and it will be tempting to interrupt. The mediator will encourage the parties to listen respectfully and quietly – try to do so as you will have an opportunity to say your piece. Listening and observing though gives you information on how the case may be presented in Court and by concentrating on your opponents case for a short time, you will gain new insights into your own stance.
Commit to the mediation
This might seem obvious and overcomes any preconceptions that someone is just turning up to go through the motions. It is helpful to highlight at the outset of your opportunity to speak that you have committed time to the mediation process and seek a resolution to the dispute that day. This commitment towards settlement stated in a positive manner can set the tone for negotiations.
Don’t just talk about your legal position, what has the dispute meant to you?
It is probably realistic to assume that arguing about your legal entitlement hasn’t enabled you to settle the dispute or you would not be at mediation. Regurgitating the legal position alone is therefore unlikely to achieve a different outcome.
Explaining the background and impact on you gives context to the legal position. It also means that you are heard and your side of the story is not lost. Do not be put off from explaining what the dispute has meant to you personally and professionally.
Jot down an outline of what you want to say beforehand or you can read it out if you prefer
It might therefore be helpful to write out notes beforehand to read through or to refer to although looking up and into the eyes of the other side is a must.
I have taken place in a mediation in which one party looked down all the time during this session. They were not prepared to meet the eyes of their opponent and as a result it appeared they were less than confident about their case. Hold your head up and show that you are prepared to engage to settle the dispute.
Any missing information?
During the course of the joint session, if there are any areas that you did not understand or would like to question or find additional information, it is your opportunity to ask your opponent those questions.
Likewise, come along with all your paperwork and supporting information and copies to handover just in case. If there are other people who hold information that may be helpful, make sure that you have contact details for them and that they are aware you may need to call on them for help, advice or information during the day.
Direct your statements to your opponent
It can be tempting during a joint meeting to look and refer directly to the mediator. The mediator is there to facilitate and therefore unless directed otherwise, any statement or discussion points you make should be directed to your opponent.
Listen to the mediator
The mediator will guide you as to where to sit at the joint meeting and also when the meeting should close. If you are uncomfortable during the session or would welcome taking a break and the mediator has not stopped the process, ask to revert back to private meetings and draw the joint session to a close.
Expressions of emotion
Disputes are personal even when representing a company. There is an investment in time, energy and emotion within the issues. Expressing frustration, anger and sadness is therefore very natural in a joint meeting and can assist everyone present understand your perspective.
Is there something that has puzzled you about your opponent’s case or that you do not believe the other side have grasped? A joint meeting is a great opportunity to pick up on these issues. Identify these key points beforehand and be prepared to explain your position or ask questions.
A carefully posed question asked respectfully in a neutral manner “I would like to understand more about…..what/how/why…” Exploring the issues can help support or expose areas that require further explanation, evidence or agreement.
The mediator is present throughout to manage the process and facilitate all communication. If it becomes evident that the meeting is becoming unproductive, the mediator will call a halt to the session.
Make the most of the time
This is your day. Your opportunity to find a solution and walk away with the weight off your shoulders and the dispute behind you.