The first mediation I ever facilitated failed miserably. As a second year law student I had been assigned a “dog barking” case between neighbors. I assumed I could resolve it quickly and by lunchtime the parties would skip out of the conference room by fully satisfied with the outcome. The reality was ugly. Seven hours of meditation resulted in utter frustration and parties that were more divided than when they had walked into the room. 

I did not shine that day for sure; however, I did learn quite a bit. As that famous philosopher, Johnny Cash, explains, “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door in the past. You don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” And although I would not disagree with Johnny Cash, I would add that failure is an opportunity to re-examine your ownership in the process, learn and grow.

I share this story with you because one day you, too, may be asked to mediate between two friends or colleagues and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I made. Since that first mediation many, many years ago I have taken away numerous lessons and from those lessons developed a process which I believe has served me and the parties involved well.

Below is an abbreviated version of that process with the following caveats:

  1. If possible, ask a neutral third party to mediate. It is difficult to take on the role of the mediator/facilitator if you are too close to the individuals or the situation.

2. Reach out to your campus ombuds for additional insight, tips and tools. Trust me, mediating can get messy and complicated quickly. The last thing any of us want to do is make things worse.

Ground Rules:

  • The process is voluntary. No one should be required to attend nor required to stay.
  • All parties agree to be professional and courteous towards one another. No yelling, threatening or vulgar language is permitted.
  • Everyone agrees to attend with good intentions and a willingness to attempt to resolve the present issue.
  • No interruptions. If someone has a question or disagrees with what is being said by another person, write down your thoughts and share them when it is your turn to speak.
  • The goal of the mediation or facilitated conversation is to hear each other and to be heard by one another. The goal is not to convince others of your perspective or position.

Mediator/Facilitator’s Role:

The mediator/facilitator is involved in the conversation to:

  • Create structure
  • Make sure the conversation stays on point
  • Offer a safe space for everyone to be heard
  • Help explore and generate options to address concerns, and
  • Provide a platform for an informal resolution.

Final Thought for All Parties:

All parties should try to offer kindness and patience. Use your voice but also use your ears. Think before you speak and make sure you are using words that properly convey your message. Pause if needed. Use silence if necessary. If the mediation continues it is because the mediator believes a favorable outcome is possible. The mediator also recognizes no outcomes are guaranteed and other steps may be needed to address the issues.

Again, for additional guidance, please reach out to your campus Ombuds Office.

By: Melissa Connell, Ombuds Office Director, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus