Why don't they understand?
This is a question which mediators and advisers frequently hear. It’s said in mediations of all types; workplace, divorce and other relationship situations, including education. In a surprising number of instances, poor communication and a lack of understanding is the real problem. We may think that we’re explaining what we need and why and that our letters our clear, but after repeated correspondence, there is a risk that everyone can adopt entrenched positions.
Mediation can be a way to improve communication and work towards a mutually beneficial outcome for everyone. As both an adviser and a mediator, I know how important it can be to keep an open and positive dialogue going. At times, this can feel hard, but it really is worth doing as it can help create a good outcome in the specific situation, as well as helping to secure the basis for a continuing relationship.
For example, Neil and Debbie were concerned that their 11 year old son, Phil, was having difficulties at school. Phil has physical and sensory disabilities and receives support for his special educational needs. Phil told his parents that some of the other children have bullied him because of his disabilities. Phil’s grades are lower than predicted and his teachers have raised this as a concern with his parents.
Neil and Debbie believe that that teachers aren’t addressing the issue of Phil being perceived as different and aren’t taking action to support him and stop the bullying. They’ve said this in letters and at parent/teacher meetings. The school says that some teachers have described Phil as being “stroppy” or “withdrawn”. The school has concerns about Phil’s behaviour.
In this situation, both Neil and Debbie and the school have taken up fixed positions. This is quite understandable and not unusual. However, it makes it difficult to move towards a mutually beneficial outcome. Mediation can provide the space for both parties to express their views and hear those of the other participants. This can be particularly effective in a situation like that of Phil, Debbie and Neil, where the incidents kept feeding back into each other, creating new tensions and reinforcing existing ones. The parents and the school create a solution together, in which everyone has a role to play and actions to undertake to eliminate the bullying and its causes as well as improving Phil’s behaviour. This type of mediated co-operative solution can also indirectly benefit other people.
The mediator facilitates the process and the discussion between the parties. This can help them to create a framework to address not only the current difficulty, but also to improve communication generally. This is particularly important and useful where the relationship has to continue on a long-term basis. It’s worth remembering that these relationships don’t just happen between parents, separated or not, but also with other individuals, such as your children and their school. These are also situations where you can use mediation to advantage.