TAG | dispute resolution



53 Paper Bags

53 Paper Bags

In early January I received a call from a mediation client. She is an elderly woman who had been a participant in an elder care issue with her children. She left me a voicemail asking me to send her a copy of her mediation receipt as she could not locate it or had misplaced the receipt. I printed of a copy of her 2014 receipt and mailed it off to her. I called her to let her know it was on the way. She proudly explained to me that she keeps a paper grocery bag for each year’s receipts, warranties, tax records, bank statements. When all the records are collected for that year she seals the bag, writes the year on the side and puts the bag up in the attic. I thought to myself that is actually a pretty good record keeping system until she said “Yep, I have bags going all the way back to 1961 when I moved into this house.”

53 years of documents, receipts, checkbook registers, papers. 53 paper bags of slowly deteriorating- likely mouse eaten- papers cluttering her attic. 53 bags of now useless records that are probably a fire hazard. Granted, the last 7 years or so are valuable but not the rest of those bags.

I have been thinking a lot about those 53 paper bags and how every person brings their own concepts of what is valuable and correct in all our personal interactions. We all have differing ideas and expectations of what is right and appropriate. We all have been shaped by our own life experiences. When our own expectations and belief systems come into conflict with another person’s differing perspective we are at odds with each other. Conflict happens in business issues, personal marital relationships, neighbors, extended families, and governmental bodies. Conflict occurs easily, resolution is more elusive.

The woman firmly believes- or perceives- those 53 bags will be an aid to her children and a gift of excellent records. I suspect after she dies her children- who are already in conflict with each other- will curse those brittle paper bags as they bring them down one by one from the attic. One woman’s thoughtful act becomes another person’s dirty job.

It just depends who you ask.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

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Mediation Myths

There are many myths regarding mediation that need to be explored and dispelled. There is a lot of misinformation confusion. I’d like to try to clear some of that up by sharing accurate information regarding mediation and the services that mediators offer.

mediation services mnMyth #1: Only people who agree can mediate. If that were true, there would be no need to mediate. Of course people who disagree can mediate, just like people who are angry can mediate and people who don’t really like each other can mediate. All they have to do is agree to mediate, not agree upon every issue between them. Mediators do not expect their clients to talk quietly and never raise their voices, and a mediator truly has to feel comfortable being in the middle of people expressing anger and frustration, often times loudly. The mediator’s job, for example through restating and framing what a party says and asking questions, is to get them to really hear what the other is sharing.  Hopefully the discussions highlight where they have shared and common interests which allows parties to brainstorm resolutions.

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dispute resolutionMyth #3: A couple can only mediate if they have equal power. There are not many marriages where both spouses have equal advocacy skills. Ideally, both parties have equal bargaining power, but if they don’t which is more often the case, the mediator’s job is to empower the party who may not feel as comfortable in the process. She can see if the couple will agree to bring someone into the process who can help, such as a financial person or the party’s lawyer. However, there is a difference between unequal bargaining power and a situation where someone does not have the capacity to mediate. If someone cannot or will not advocate for himself or herself, whether it be because of personality, substance abuse or domestic violence, then only mediators with special training should undertake those matters, if at all.

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