The 6 things you need to settle a dispute – and something else I do as a mediator *

Most people find it harder to listen to people they are arguing with or don’t like. It requires effort and discipline. The challenge is not getting people to talk but getting them to listen.

While no disputes are the same, when it comes to settling them the methods used are often strikingly similar. Six principles apply. George Mitchell, the US Senator who chaired the Northern Ireland peace talks referred to them in the context of brokering peace settlements but they are as pertinent, irrespective of whether you are looking to settle a commercial dispute with another business, a professional negligence claim, a probate case or a partnership fall-out. Here they are:

1 Preparation: People need to understand the history and be properly informed. To this, I would add two things. They need to understand the people and what would sway them. And they need to be able to move on from ‘How we got to this’ to ‘Where do we go from here?’

* As a mediator, where a case warrants it, I also like to meet the protagonists and their team individually for a confidential chat a few days before a mediation. I find this improves the chances of the dispute settling. It also accelerates the process and I know how many lawyers are fed up with mediations that only seem to get going at 3pm. It can be invaluable where feelings are running high or where a party hasn’t mediated before or doesn’t appear to understand someone else’s business.

2 Ownership: The protagonists need to take ownership of the issues. Because they are going to have to live with the consequences.

3 Know your objectives and your bottom line: And theirs too.

4 Perseverance: Keep focused on what you want to achieve. Keep moving forward.

5 Patience: You need a reservoir of it. There will be setbacks. As Mike Tyson said ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’.

6 Be prepared to take a risk & lead by example:  Sometimes you need a spark to drive the wheel of change – especially if you are operating against a backdrop of mistrust or a disintegrating relationship.

In my next blog, I will be writing about what you can learn from talking to terrorists and about being prepared to take a risk.