When the Person Who Needs It Won’t Mediate

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What can a family do when the aging person who seems to be the focal point of a conflict refuses to mediate the dispute? Other than trying to persuade the reluctant one to try it, there is no way to force anyone to mediation. It is a purely voluntary process. Without cooperation from everyone involved, the chances of success are zero.

Sometimes, there is a misconception that the mediator is going to tell someone that they are wrong, or tell the difficult person what to do. Unfortunately, that shouldn’t happen in mediation. Mediators are neutral. That means, they don’t take sides. If the mediator tells the person in question that he or she is wrong, that immediately takes the mediator onto a side and out of the middle.

In my litigation career, I attended countless mediations as an advocate for my clients. I advocated for their positions. The lawyer on the other side advocated for her or his clients’ positions. The mediators who were good at the job of mediation invited each of us to look at the conflict (a legal case) from a different point of view. The mediator suggested a possible compromise, pointed out the weaknesses in our analysis or position, and often did exactly the same with the other side when we were in a separate room.

I also saw terrible mediators, whose work was so lacking in neutrality that I resented paying the mediator’s fee. One mediator took on my client and argued with him, heatedly, trying to get my client to change his viewpoint of the value of the case. That mediation failed.

Mediation of family conflicts is a special arena, which should be reserved for mediators who understand family dynamics and respect all or both sides. Big egos who try to force a change in thinking from the parties are likely to alienate them. Success at mediation of family conflicts starts with getting all parties, including the reluctant ones, to the table to begin the conversation.

Reluctant parties can change their minds. It happens at mediation every day. But no one will do that if he or she feels forced into it.

Learn more about mediating family disputes in How to Handle Family Conflicts About Elders, from The Boomer’s Guide to Aging Parents, available in ebook, print, or audio formats.

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