Reflecting on Mediation - and Communication

Over the past week or so, I have been involved in fascinating mediations and facilitation. From the governance in sport to senior management team challenges to passing off and trademarks, the key factor is, as nearly always, the personal dynamics among the principal players.

Whether through a failure to communicate (why did we not lift the phone six months ago) to a slightly inflammatory letter (based on a factual misunderstanding), or lack of clarity in roles (and not enough time to give feedback) to inadequate implementation of an agreed strategy (good on paper but more difficult to act upon), matters depend on how people interact and engage.

As more than one assistant mediator has observed, the similarity between real life mediation and the simulations used in our training courses is often very close. That is not surprising given that, although the factual matrix changes, the underlying needs, concerns, hopes, fears and interests of people and organisations remain constant throughout. Thus, the training really does provide transferable skills and techniques as many of our participants have acknowledged.

We see that what the mediator brings is that third side support. He or she can provide the structure, the framework, even just the security, of an environment in which the personal dynamics can be addressed with some openness and privacy - enabling frank but respectful exchanges to take place. "He is a decent guy after all.....". "that was one of the most thoughtful and articulate presentations....". "I really needed to get that off my chest but without undermining things..."

More than that of course. Many of these matters need a commercial or practical edge, the opportunity to test out possible ways forward, a sounding board, ways to avoid further waste of time, energy and expense. Cutting through to solutions is also about timing and capturing the moment, judgment and intuition, as well as experience and harnessing the resources of those taking part.

My other role this past week was to facilitate a collaborative session at a one day event under the auspices of the 2020 Climate Change Group on the subject of the use of Scotland's peatlands. What an eye-opener. Who would have thought that how we manage our peatlands and bogs will have a more significant impact on CO2 emissions than just about anything else we might do? They act as carbon sinks, storing around 3 billion tonnes of carbon - equivalent to one third of all of the carbon held by all of Europe's forests -  but badly managed can release more CO2 than most other activities. A loss of 1% of Scotland's peat would equal the whole country's annual carbon emissions.

There is work to be done in getting this message out. And that needs the key players to communicate, work together and implement a clear strategy.