Blog » Mediation Myth-Buster #2 - Why should I mediate when I'm right?
A thought occurred to me when I heard the breaking news today about Sir Alex Ferguson ending his self-imposed ban on talking to the BBC. I wonder how long you or I would stick to our guns if we really thought we were right.
When you get polarised from an opponent or an opposing view, is your first reaction to talk or to work it out? Or is it to go with the more basic 'fight' or 'flight' instincts. I'm guessing that like me you want to go with the latter. And so if you are like me you can probably relate to Sir Alex. But seven years, Sir Alex?
The truth is that there seems to be a pretty narrow window of opportunity between making a gesture when you can safely back down. If you don't do it within that limited time, you can end up feeling that to make any move towards peace is a sign of weakness.
No matter how childish you may look. No matter what the impact on the reputation of your business, your professionalism or your football club. No matter how many opportunities you may miss to advance your cause, explain yourself or improve your business.
Mediation is a strategy for resolving any conflict, whether a flash in the pan or a 7-year trench war. Often people tell will tell you that they have nothing to mediate about because they know they are right. So what is the answer to someone who asks why they should mediate in that situation? Here are just three ideas:
1) Agreeing to mediate or to talk is not the same as an admission of wrong-ness or a confession of guilt. If you are concerned about that being perceived, make it clear up front that this is the case.
2) All communication relies on assumptions and interpretations. I cannot process all the data coming at me and so I interpret and add meanings to stuff all the time. Chris Argyris' Ladder of Inference explains this beautifully. If you will talk and listen or mediate a problem you can gain information which might help your interpretation of events.
3) Does it matter if you are right? The truth, as the saying goes, is stranger than it used to be. Our perceptions are a bundle of thoughts about our lives and those around us. If you are not so hung up about being right all the time, maybe you can take a more relaxed approach about someone taking a different view.
I know that the stakes were high for Sir Alex - an accusation about his son's business dealings. But how long can a war last?
Next time you find yourself in a dispute that is getting entrenched perhaps ask yourself if you have more to gain from being in that trench or more to gain by getting out and trying some peace-making. I hope Sir Alex Ferguson, even at his ripe old age, has learned something from this. If he is stuck like this again, he could always call a mediator.