The Mediation Clock

Three of the people with whom I am closest all share the habit of calling me from their car on their way somewhere. Their choice of dialing my number en route creates an inherent structure to these calls. Quite simply, the conversation lasts for as long as it takes the caller to arrive at his or her destination. Unless the caller is driving to or from another state, these calls are typically 5-10 minutes in duration. As the recipient of such calls, this particular structure has its pluses and minuses for me.

On the plus side, I enjoy knowing how long a conversation is likely to last so I can decide how involved I want to get with my sharing. If I'm in the middle of something, it means taking just a short break before I can return to whatever I was doing before I received the call. In terms of verbal communication, I tend to keep things close to my vest. If I know someone is about to arrive somewhere, it's an easy excuse not to get into something too deep. If I do mention something serious, the structure of the car-call puts parameters on their level of questioning. I have to be careful with this one, however, so as not to compel the caller to drive in circles in the parking garage or to sit in his or her car, thus extending the length of the conversation, forcing me to over-share, and therefore making me lose all of the receiver benefits of the car-call quick escape. When I tell them it's okay--turn off the engine, go inside the gym/office/restaurant/friend's house--I truly mean it. In those moments when I want to share but really, kind of, don’t, I like that they've arrived at their destination.

A minus of such structured calls is that I feel like the pace and length of the conversation is completely out of my hands. That can be frustrating. Sometimes a discussion is just starting to get interesting when, finally at his or her destination, the caller informs me of his or her arrival, thus ending the conversation what, to me, feels prematurely.

So what does any of this have to do with mediation?

Scheduling and time: the mediator's, the clients'. Time is just never easy.

Of course we have to give mediation sessions structure by limiting their length. The mediators need it, as do the clients. Scheduled mediations can create a greater sense of urgency, often resulting in clients moving from their positions in the final ten minutes of a session. Not only that, for both financial and business planning purposes, we have to know when the mediation is supposed to end. Yet I can't help but recognize some negative consequences to scheduling a mediation session to end at a specific time.

I used to go to this amazing massage therapist who believed that a massage should end when the body was ready for it to end, not after some pre-determined time. I think this can be true with mediation as well. Aren't there times when the conflict, not some set schedule, should end the mediation session? Can't we as mediators feel in our experience and education, in our bodies even, that if we only had another hour ... I'm sure that there are mediators and mediations that allow for this that go with the flow, ending the mediation when it's over. Certainly I've heard of negotiations, particularly labor negotiations that work like that. I've heard this less so about mediation, but I have to imagine it exists. Yet if you're a mediator with your own business, with multiple clients, wearing multiple hats on any given day, is that really possible to do on any regular basis?

Perhaps it's all about the exception: the important break-through in communication that makes circling in the parking garage, putting aside a task for another day, or skipping lunch between mediation clients all very worth it.

By Laura L. Noah
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