Is there is such a thing as the perfect mediation? We recently had a case that certainly seemed to fit the bill.
We received a referral for mediation between two neighbours who had been in dispute for a couple of years. They had been making complaints to their housing provider regarding noise from each other's flats. An appointment was made for our mediators to meet them individually, for their initial private sessions. On a bright and sunny morning, we made the journey from Manchester through the leafy roads of Cheshire to meet the parties in their own homes.
The first meeting was with Stuart, who began to explain how the noise from the upstairs flat was disturbing his sleep and becoming a real problem for him. He didn't want to speak to his neighbour as he was concerned about the reaction from her adult son. Whilst he didn't live at the property, he had caused a disturbance once when visiting his Mum and when Stuart tried to speak to him about it he had responded angrily. We explored the situation further and he acknowledged that in the past he'd had a good neighbourly relationship with the lady in the flat above. He identified that things began to deteriorate when she started to disturb him late at night by stomping up the stairs, slamming the doors and when her son visited, he would shout and generally bang around flat.
Stuart really wanted an end to these problems as his health was being affected by what had become a very stressful situation. He was agreeable to coming together with his neighbour, in the hope of finding solutions to this difficult situation. We coached Stuart in how to get the best out of the mediation process and the importance of delivering his message in a way that would help his neighbour listen. We explained that when we use blaming language, people are likely to feel the need to defend themselves. This often results in our message getting lost because they stop listening. He recognised that this could be valuable and may assist him in finding a way forward.
Our next appointment was with Dana who lived in the flat upstairs. She was extremely anxious about the complaints from her neighbour and was unsure about how things could ever be resolved. Initially we spent time chatting and building rapport with her. When it was apparent she felt more comfortable, we began to explore her perception of the situation. She explained that she was not in the best of health and this meant she found it difficult to sleep, resulting in her being up and around late at night. Because of the complaints her neighbour had made to the housing provider, Dana described being so anxious about making noise that may disturb her neighbour, that when her son occasionally stayed overnight they wouldn't communicate directly but by text message instead, even when they were in the same room! She acknowledged that her son could be noisy when he visited and this was usually as a result of being upset after an argument with his Father, who he lived with.
Dana readily agreed to meet with her neighbour, she wanted to be able to get along with Stuart and return to their previously good neighbourly relationship. After explaining how the meeting between them would work, we once again spoke about how to say things in a way that would enable our message to be heard more easily. We focused on how Dana could deliver her opening statement using "I" statements and like Stuart, she recognised the value in this as it would help her to explain to her neighbour what she needed for the situation to be improved for her.
Another bright and sunny day two weeks later, we returned to Cheshire for the joint session. Stuart and Dana arrived at the meeting venue at the same time and were chatting as they came in. Not the unusual start to a mediation joint meeting between neighbours in conflict, but a good sign none the less. After going through the usual introductions, meeting guidelines and housekeeping, we moved on to invite Stuart and Dana to deliver their initial opening statements. They agreed who would speak first and listened carefully to each other as they explained their concerns, how they had been affected by everything that had happened and what they needed for the situation to be improved. We summarised what we had heard, which formed an agenda for the meeting and an open discussion ensured between Dana and Stuart. They exchanged new information, developed understanding from each other's perspective and identified what they could do for each other to improve their situation for the future.
In under an hour Dana and Stuart had discussed what they needed, identified a way forward and formulated their mediation agreement. Not only had they agreed on how they would raise their concerns should problems arise in the future, they had also developed a better understanding of each other's circumstances.
A great outcome for the neighbours involved I'm sure you'll agree. The perfect mediation? You decide.
Our mediation service stretches far and wide - from Manchester to Liverpool, to Warrington, Salford, Chorley, North Wales, Macclesfield and further afield - wherever there is a dispute or conflict to be resolved our mediators are happy to help.