Why Do We Think We Must Use Force?

Is it human nature to resort to using force to get our way? Is that why we go to war instead of the negotiating table? Try this experiment with your friends and family. Put a quarter on your palm and close your hand.  Your hand will look like a fist. Ask your friends to try to get the quarter and watch what they do. Most will try to pry your fist open. Very few will negotiate with you.

Miscommunication and Offending Others

What if you just asked them to open their hand or to give you the quarter, maybe even loan you the quarter? Could you offer them a reward? What about reminding them they owe you a quarter? How about offering to tell them a joke or wash their windshield for a quarter? You’d be surprised how often a simple request will be granted.

This is how mediation works. Many people assume they need to go to court when they cannot get someone to pay them back, finish a job, or take back a defective product. We are often quick to assume that if we’ve tried to get someone to do something and it didn’t work, the other person must be unreasonable and will have to be forced to do what we want or need them to.

But consider the possibilities for a minute. Could there have been a miscommunication? Maybe you had different expectations for the outcome. Was someone offended? Do feelings need to be dealt with before money matters can be resolved? Has there been a job loss or family emergency that is interfering with the other person’s ability to meet their obligations?

Avoiding Court

Many problems can be resolved without going to court and using mediation instead. People are often more satisfied with the result of a mediation in which they helped create the resolution, rather than leaving their fate up to a judge who has to follow the guidelines of the legal system.

In business, there are a number of things you can do to avoid problems that end up in court:

  • Add clearly printed return policies to your receipts and post them on a wall.
  • Make sure you use contracts that spell out everyone’s responsibilities, expected results, and deadlines. 
  • Put arbitration or mediation clauses in your contracts, obligating people to try those options before going to court when there is a dispute.
  • Maintain clear and written policies and procedures for your employees. 
    • Say what you mean and mean what you say so people can count on your word.
    •  Apologize when you’re wrong and take action to remedy the situation.

After all that, if you still have a problem, you can hire a neutral party to sit down with you and resolve the problem.

Not Just a Compromise

Mediation is not just about looking for a compromise. It is not about cutting the last orange in the refrigerator in half because two kids are fighting over it. Mediation reveals that one child wants to eat the fruit and the other needs the rind to put in a cake recipe. When you take the time to find out what each person really needs, you can implement a win/win solution.

Situations Not Appropriate for Mediation

How can you tell what situations are not appropriate for mediation? In cases where there is physical or emotional abuse, for example, it can be hard for an abused person to negotiate with his/her abuser. Another indicator that mediation is probably not appropriate is when one person wants to punish the other. Mediation does not punish.


The best indicator that the conflict is ripe for mediation is when the parties all want to resolve the matter. They don’t have to be on the same page or agree with one another to start the process. They just need to want the problem solved. A skilled mediator can help people find a way to resolve their differences.

If you would like to discuss using mediation for your situation, feel free to email Laurelyn Irving, PhD or call 410-706-8534.

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