“I’ve not done anything wrong, they’re the ones making all the noise and disturbing us; so why should I mediate?” these were the opening words we were met with when we went to visit a very reluctant neighbour who had been experiencing noise nuisance from the flat above for over a year.
How would you have responded? My co-mediator and I nodded and smiled and then explained that of course they didn’t have to mediate, it was their choice as mediation is a voluntary process; but if they just wanted to explain what had been happening, we could see if we may be able to help. So, we listened to what they had to say, using non-verbal cues and reflective responses to acknowledge what was said. We used our questioning skills to draw out details of their situation and help them identify what they needed for their future to be more peaceful. It was very clear they felt frustrated, especially with the length of time they had been experiencing the noise from the upstairs flat. Local authority interventions and a noise abatement notice had been served to their neighbours, but they still felt as though they hadn’t had the chance to say how they felt and get what they wanted.
Once we had established rapport with them and got a clear idea of their issues and needs, we explained the options available to them. Although they were unsure, they were willing to put their trust in us and they agreed to attend a joint mediation meeting. We discussed how to prepare for a mediation meeting in order to get the best out of the opportunity it presented, and they recognised the value in carefully considering what it was they wanted to achieve and how they should go about making requests for the changes that they desperately needed to enable them to live peacefully in their flat. We said our goodbyes and left to visit the flat upstairs.
The flat that was causing the disturbance was occupied by two young flat mates who invited us in and welcomed us to their home. They explained that this was their first time living away from home and they were keen to make a good impression, so they were unsure what the problem was. Their neighbours had never spoken to them about their concerns, so it was all very confusing for them. It became clear that they had made a number of changes to the way they lived as a result of the council contacting them about the complaints they had received. They were really worried about causing further problems and just wanted to know what the rules were, so they could stick to them. We explained that mediation was about finding solutions to problems that were mutually acceptable to everyone involved. When we discussed the possibility of a joint mediation meeting they immediately agreed, as they welcomed the opportunity to hear first-hand the concerns of their neighbours.
The joint meeting was arranged for a time and place convenient for all involved. My co-mediator and I arrived about half an hour before the meeting was scheduled to begin to prepare the room, agree how the session should proceed and what roles we would each be playing in helping the parties achieve the outcome they wanted. We were now ready to welcome the parties and facilitate what we hoped would be a productive joint session.
The parties arrived, settled quickly and we opened the meeting with a brief introduction outlining how the meeting would run, the time available, the meeting guidelines and general housekeeping. The parties agreed on who would deliver their opening statement first and the meeting commenced in earnest.
Now, normally when parties are delivering their opening statement we ask for the other people present not to interrupt, but just to take the time to listen to the concerns raised by other party and consider their requests. The young flatmates began with an apology and an explanation for the disturbances. They explained that on reflection they recognised that they had got carried away with being in their first property away from home. They then went on to explain some of the changes they had made to how they were living and how they really just wanted to be good neighbours. The other side responded immediately, acknowledging their apology and recognising how exciting it was to live in your first place, away from home. The young flatmates listened intently as their neighbours explained how the noise had affected them, particularly in relation to their sleep. They went on to explain the implications of disrupted sleep and how it could impact on their job as doctors. The conversation between them continued, with very minimal intervention needed from me or my co-mediator, other than to acknowledge areas of agreement and clarify the wording they wished to use in their agreement points.
The meeting had been in session for just under an hour and we had already drafted their agreement. It became clear that the meeting had enabled them to empathise with each other and consider a different perspective. They had been able to identify and understand each other’s needs and acknowledge how the year long dispute had affected them all.
Was it the
power of the apology offered at the start of the joint meeting that set them on
this track? Or was it their willingness
to listen and understand a different perspective and be able to work together
to find mutually acceptable solutions?
It certainly surprised me and my co-mediator and gave us some food for
thought when reflecting on the case overall, as well as the joint meeting. But it left us thinking that we should “Expect the unexpected because life is full
of surprises” - Melchor Lim