Three ways the Children’s Hospital made me a better mediator

While it was a few years ago now, my weeks sleeping on the pull out beds at the Children’s Hospital taught me several lessons that have influenced the way I run mediations.

While some families spend months or years in the twilight zone, the two weeks we spent in the Children’s Hospital was a foreign and stressful experience. And I had the benefit of some knowledge (albeit via medical negligence claims). I can only imagine it would be even more stressful for someone who has no knowledge of how a hospital works.

I have been reflecting on our experience and what contributed to the angst experienced (apart from, obviously, the health of our son). I concluded that the three factors that contributed most were the waiting, our lack of knowledge and the emotional background of everyone you came in contact with. Each of those factors also exist for both parties in a mediation. Address each of them in a mediation setting and the prospects of resolution will be higher.

1. Waiting

My goodness you wait in a hospital. We are all familiar with the wait when you turn up at the A&E to see a doctor; but let me tell you that is only the beginning. First you wait after being triaged, then wait as the first doctor confirms diagnosis and investigations with their senior doctor, and then the senior doctor speaks to the consultant. Repeat the process with test results and then go back to the beginning and start again if the first round of tests do not reveal anything. Our PB was 9 hours of waiting. As each hour passed our angst and frustration escalated. Our confidence in the medical staff waivered and we became less tolerant.

Put that into the mediation setting. We all know that there can be many hours sitting around while it appears no one is doing anything to. But in fact, just as in a hospital, things are going on behind the scenes; discussions, analysis, considering options and obtaining instructions. However, if a party expects that delay then the angst and frustration does not escalate. Causing the very person who you want to negotiate with unnecessary anger and frustration is not conducive to reaching a favourable resolution.

It is for that reason that I make it a practice in all mediations to regularly keep each party informed of the likely time each stage will take and, so far as confidentiality permits, what each party needs to do before the next step can be taken.

2. Lack of knowledge

I’m not talking about having a detailed knowledge of medicine or law here, more about the process. Following our son’s first review by a doctor we were told it was somewhat unusual and the doctor would go and discuss it with the senior doctor. I had assumed the senior doctor was nearby, knowing that there were other matters with priority I assumed we would wait 10-15 minutes, 30 at tops. 2.5 hours later we hear back that a senior doctor would like a blood test, surely that could have been done in the 2.5 hours?

That process is a regular feature. While I know we were in a highly regarded hospital with excellent medical staff, I was not feeling it. I was doubting whether they were taking our son’s condition seriously, had we just been forgotten? However, on one occasion a junior doctor and his consultant actually explain to us the process, they explained who they had to speak with, what those other people were doing and advised that it would not be quick. What a difference it made.

Most participants in a mediation find the whole process foreign. The simple step of giving an overview to either your client or the other side of the process, what steps you need to take behind the scenes and the timing of their involvement will go a long way to keeping open the lines of communication and creating the right environment for resolution.

3. Emotional background

You get to know peoples’ business pretty quickly in a shared ward, sleeping on uncomfortable pull out beds and having examinations conducted behind a curtain. Most of the time it’s all background white noise that you ignore, however you see the outbursts, the emotional highs and lows. Over time you learn that the emotional highs and lows are often a reaction to past experiences, whether that be years of treatment, reminders of family member’s past medical conditions, fear caused by previous events.

It is the same in a mediation setting. It is easy to observe the behaviour of the other parties, make a quick judgment on what is causing that behaviour and react accordingly. However, just take the time to acknowledge that there may be other factors driving someone’s behaviour, and if possible, try to understand what that may be. If there is some way to adapt the mediation process to accommodate that factor, do it, it will make the mediation easier for everyone.

The above factors influence all human interactions however they are particularly relevant in situations in which there is potential power imbalances and high emotion. Those with high EI may take these factors into account automatically, however making a conscious effort to ensure that the other party is given sufficient knowledge about the mediation process, is not kept unexpectedly or unnecessarily waiting and is treated with some empathy will maximize the changes of a successful resolution.


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