by Karina Cordero, Conflict Mediation Specialist
Alternative methods of conflict resolution, such as mediation, have grown in popularity in recent years due to their low cost and less time consuming solutions as compared to the traditional court system. However, during my time at APADRC I have discovered that one of the most valuable aspects of mediation is the ability this process has on preserving and/or repairing relationships. Mediation doesn’t only help parties understand each other’s views, but also leads to better communication. Through mediation, people in conflict find each other in a safe and confidential environment where they can air grievances, personal, and non-legal issues. This makes mediation ideal for a variety of cases, especially those in which parties wish to maintain a connection or wish to continue their lives without hanging on to the hurt, frustration, fear or anger that their particular conflict has caused them.
Currently I am working on a case regarding a divorced couple that could benefit from this important aspect of mediation. About twenty years ago, Party 1 divorced her husband, and although they had several properties together, they decided to only sell the house they were living in at that time. Party 1 contacted us because eight years ago she discovered that when her ex-husband called her to sign the documents to sell the one house, she signed off the other properties that they both co-owned. She believes that he misled her in to signing the documents on purpose. When she found out about the proper-ties, she mentioned it to Party 2 and he said it was a mistake and that he would put her name back on the documents but so far, he hasn’t done so. Since then he found a new partner, whom is currently living in the properties that initially belonged to both parties in the conflict. Party 1 mentioned that their communication has slowly declined and that she wants to find a way to resolve this conflict without harming what is left of her relationship with the father of five of her children. In this case both parties seem to care a lot about their children and mediation could be ideal in bringing to the table two parties that are willing to work together to safeguard the well-being of their family. By discussing their sides of the story they might air out areas of miscommunication and devise a creative solution that will allow them to put this issue in the past and move forward with their life; maybe even repairing some of the damage in their relationship along the way.
Moreover, coming from a Diplomacy and International Relations background I have previously studied conflict resolution and peacemaking globally. Through this I found that even in cases of protracted conflict, sitting the parties down and clarifying the underlying interest driving their position can go a long way in improving a detrimental situation. Often conflicts arise when parties believe that both sides’ aspirations cannot be satisfied at the same time, and these aspirations are manifested in terms of standards, specific targets, goals or acceptable minimums. However, there is always room for a possible compromise and/or collaboration that parties are unaware of, because they are more focused on winning or losing. Many people I have encountered throughout my life give conflict a negative connotation, they see it as bad or as something to avoid, yet conflict is an intrinsic part of our lives. Either we choose to take it as a burden, or as an opportunity. While too much conflict may disrupt society, high emphasis on stability and conflict suppression can result in unproductive solutions and even injustice. In the case discussed above, both parties have been guilty of suppressing the conflict and letting years pass by, which deteriorated their communication. Although the process of shared decision-making that is encouraged through mediation is certainly not easy under conditions of conflict and uncertainty, it is an opportunity to create solutions where both parties feel they have benefited. This in turn will make them more comfortable carrying out the agreement they reached and hopefully prevent the conflict from arising in the future.