Mediation sessions can take a long time and may seem not only to be a test of wills but a test as to who is willing to physically outlast the other. Don’t expect a sprint. Prepare for a marathon. Also don’t expect huge leaps of progress the first hour. Consider it as a way to stretch out or warm up for a long run. The first hour allows people to get used to the environment, it tests the waters and sets expectations.

In a piece on Lifehacker on running Beth Skwarecki writes, “The first mile of a run (or about the first ten minutes of any exercise) sucks for everybody. Go easy on yourself in that first mile, though, and you can set yourself up for a great workout or race…We ask too much of ourselves, sometimes.” The same can be said of negotiation or mediation.

“You should never expect anything good from your first mile. It will either be slow, or feel awful, or both. But during that first mile, your muscles are transitioning to a more efficient way of working. The slow, stiff, cold, doubtful first mile paves the way for the smooth, easy, strong miles to follow.”

Mediation often starts with some social niceties and formalities. The parties may lay out their view of the case, the facts they find crucial, and why their story will eventually win the day.

  • There’s a certain amount of posturing but there may also be honest discussions that a party admits at least partial responsibility (but the demand is much too high) and an honest desire to give mediation a chance to reach a resolution so the parties can go their separate ways.
  • Or there may be anger, indignation and finger pointing. Don’t expect everyone to join hands and have a Kumbaya moment soon after mediation starts.

It may take some time but parties normally start building trust with agreements on more minor issues and build momentum that results in both parties realizing that an agreement is the better alternative to continued litigation.

Each mediation has its own pace. There could be continuous steps forward until a resolution. Things could also grind to a halt before the finish line is reached. Sprinting-then-stopping isn’t the best recipe for finishing a marathon or a mediation. To avoid “hitting a wall” after a long run of smaller agreements try to create a tempo that allows you to overcome the first few miles and run smoothly the rest of the way.

Steve Mehta is a professional full-time mediator who specializes in mediating complex and emotional cases. A leading Los Angeles mediator, Mr. Mehta has been repeatedly selected as a Super Lawyer in mediation and is highly regarded by both sides to mediation. To schedule mediations, please visit SteveMehta.com