Friday, January 17, 2014

How does a Busy Mediator Stay Fully Engaged in each Case?

One of the struggles I have when I am as busy as January has become is to fully attend to each case and essentially be "an empty vessel" so that I can listen deeply to the parties in conflict, without pre-judgment or bias.  Like a good psychotherapist, a mediator's job is largely to listen, empathize and reframe in such a way that the disputants to any given conflict feel genuinely heard and understood.  It is only after that exercise and effort that the mediator can help each side to see the other's perspective and be truly creative in addressing each side's claims and underlying interests.

Last week, I attended a Networking meeting lead by a colleague and friend, Mark Fingerman, who also teaches Yoga and meditation.  He challenged the lawyers present to give meditation a try.  Together, we sat erect in our conference room chairs, eyes closed, attentive only to our own breathing.  After three minutes, chimes sounded and we opened our eyes.  It sounds too easy to have been true:  but somehow I felt a little more genuine in my listening to the life story of the Plaintiff in a wrongful termination case that came before me that day.  I heard (through a translator) about the plight of a man who had experienced an extraordinarily challenging life.  He came to the U.S. on a boat from Viet Nam during the war in the 1970's.  He suffered horrible losses during that trip:  family members drowned and others were too weak to survive the journey.  He struggled to gain U.S. citizenship and employment here--with no English skills when he arrived here.  He was now the sole care taker for a disabled (adult) child and had been out of work for over a year. 

My morning meditation (only 3 minutes!) gave me the calm and legitimate "presence" to listen deeply to a point of view which I cannot personally know, given my own experience as an American born, college educated, empty nester.  Having calmed myself early in the morning, I found I could attend to the difficult facts and truly empathize and engage with this Plaintiff.

I am certain it is not the only way, but for me, so far, meditation has been a simple, but effective tool to empty my mind of my own personal clutter and fully attend to those in conflict before me.  And today I worked my way up to 4 minutes!