Staying Present at Contentious Mediations

With BASF’s Putting for the Pipeline golf tournament coming in October, my mind turned to the similarities between the most mental of all sports and mediation. Playing golf is much more than hitting a ball with a club. As any golfer will attest, it raises mental pressures, not entirely unlike the anxiety and nervousness that can arise in a contentious mediation or negotiation.

While Yogi Berra may have said of baseball that 90 percent of the game is half mental, 90 percent of success in golf is mental. Much like golf, perhaps the most important mental attribute in mediation is staying present. Staying in the moment will help the mediation participant (and golfer) put aside the mental pressures of anxiety, speculation and nervousness. If you’re in the present, your mind is occupied and you can’t speculate (nor worry or celebrate) potential future outcomes.

We stay in the present in mediation and negotiations the same way we do in golf – by focusing on the process or fundamentals. When we linger on past difficulties of the case, with opposing counsel, opposing party or even our own clients, those thoughts influence our feelings, and our presence of mind is compromised. Thus, we are no longer in the present and the chances of a mediated or negotiated resolution is reduced.

The ability to stay in the present begins by being aware and mindful of our own selves. We must be aware of our thoughts, feelings and emotions in order to recognize them for what they are and the effect they might be having on our perceptions of the other side, their position, interests and needs. Once we are aware of our thinking and emotions and how they are affecting our thoughts, and thus putting a positive outcome in danger, we can set them aside and be more present at the mediation.

While not all mediations are contentious, for those that are, staying in the moment and being present
will open your senses to what is really going on in the room. It will reveal the emotional truth – what really matters to the parties and what the dispute is really about. Once a party’s emotional truth is discovered, a resolution is usually on its way.

ColemanAbout the Author:

Kevin C. Coleman has been settling cases as a neutral since 1996 and as a professional mediator since 2006. He performs mediation services throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including San Francisco, Marin, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Sonoma counties, and throughout California. He has been on the BASF Mediation Services panel since 2007.