Saturday, March 9, 2013

Identify the Underlying Interests of the Parties

The true believers in Mediation understand that most disputes are not just about the money.  Sometimes before a negotiation of monetary damages can even begin, it is important to tease out what is really driving the complaint and attempt to address those needs as the hearing proceeds.  In a case I handled this week, a staff member of a synagogue brought a lawsuit for wrongful termination.  After she was let go, she could not understand why the Rabbi did not reach out to her when she suffered a devastating loss in her family.  For his part, the Rabbi could not fathom that she chose to bring a lawsuit against the synagogue after so many years of friendship and loyal service. 

Before any negotiation could begin, the two opposing parties came together in a joint session--which was punctuated with tears and laughter, an exchange of photos via IPhone of grandchildren and weddings, and a true re-opening of a longstanding relationship that later facilitated the settlement of the legal dispute.  Lawyers are adept at making demands for monetary damages and offers in exchange.  Mediators, from my perspective, need to do more if they are truly to bring closure to legal disputes.