In a recent book club novel* I came across a metaphor: “The crack in the wall that leads to the secret garden”. The author was alluding to a person seeing something of another world that provides them with an insight into a crucial issue. In the novel, it is only later the heroine comes to understood the significance of what she saw. This quote inspired me to think about the essence of mediation – allowing parties to peek through a keyhole (but with permission.)
When we consider conflict as a wall between the parties, there is little or no communication possible. Any contact is very difficult. The parties on each side create their own view of the world and a fabricated one of the other party.
In a recent case I had two business partners who hadn’t spoken to each other for over a year. They had corresponded only via limited email and then mainly through their lawyers. They had built a wall between themselves that effectively blocked them in two ways: no communication with the other partner and no self-awareness or alternative perspective of their own circumstances.
Building a wall may seem like a move to maintain peace, a truce or personal privacy and protection. It will seem preferable to open war and you can get on with life as you have designed it. But the hidden costs can be major. There is emotional pain, often expressed through anger, shame or depression. A wall means no transparency, no progress, no exchange or mobility. Feelings are stuck, frozen and trapped. There can only be fear or worry – what is going on behind the wall? Walls promote uncertainty. We have plenty of ‘wall examples’ in this world teaching us about the negative consequences; Belfast, Gaza, Mexico, Berlin…
The consequences for a business are real – lower performance, a distraction leading to a decrease in productivity and disgusted customers reading about your battles in the press. How can you focus on your creativity, customer care and innovation when you are overly invested spending time and money maintaining the wall? Super injunctions represent the most expensive and draining version of the modern wall today.
What can mediation achieve: Tearing down the wall? This might require a German Chancellor and an American President. Mediation is more subtle, facilitating a little crack in the wall through which the parties can look to the other side and begin to see again. They become aware of the other’s reality and the second perspective of their own reality.
In the case I mentioned above, through a change of perspective both partners began to understood their own relative needs and shared interests. Their accumulated frustration gave way to visions of the future without the barrier. They made a decision to move on and to create mechanisms to avoid building another wall in the future.
When peeking through a keyhole, you may see something new. Maybe it is a little truth about yourself.