Mediation: As seen on TV!
Last week, in attempting to convene a mediation (that is what you call the process of setting up a mediation session), one of the parties told me that she knew about mediators and mediation because, in her words, “I watch “Fairly Legal” on TV.” To say that I was flabbergasted is an understatement.
For those of you who are not glued to your television sets on Friday nights, “Fairly Legal” airs on the USA network at 9pm (ET). The main character is Kate, a lawyer-turned-mediator. She operates her mediation practice out of her deceased father’s law firm which is now run by his widow–who had been his younger, second wife and who is, of course, much despised by Kate. Kate lives on a boat (how cool is that?!), has the requisite romantic entanglements and is given to wearing designer shoes with 6-inch heels. Her mediation style can be described as evaluative and outside the mediation room she does a lot of detective work and behind-the- scenes wheeling & dealing in order to “resolve” the issues in contention. The show is glossy, fast-paced and usually ends with everything working out well for everyone concerned.
Whilst I too am a lawyer-turned-mediator who can rock a pair of 6-inch heels with the best of them (despite the damage which they do to my feet and spine), at the point when the potential client used a television show as her source of knowledge about my profession, I realized that I had a new challenge when it came to building credibility as an ADR professional in the Caribbean region–people’s expectation that mediators and mediation would be as seen on TV!
Mediation is still quite new in many Caribbean territories. Many people do not know what it is, how it’s done or what its benefits are. Now, along comes TV-mediator Kate who presents a picture to the viewing public that mediation is 10% fast talk and 90% detective work! What’s a real-life mediator to do?! I’ve decided to tackle the problem head-on.
Sometimes in a mediation session I have to manage the expectations of parties about their settlement prospects. For instance, I may have to do a reality check in order to get them to propose a figure that is not so high or so low that the mediation reaches impasse. It now appears that I also have to manage parties’ expectations about me and about the process of mediation.
I think I can start managing expectations from the time a new client walks into my office. Easy-to-read information pamphlets and a short video featuring simulations of different stages of the mediation process are two things I can do immediately in order to provide enough information to adjust expectations.
Further, in my opening statement, I can ask the parties if they have any idea, either from actual experience or from television, what mediation is or what mediators do. If they do have previous experience or have seen “Fairly Legal” or some other television show or movie that featured mediation, I can then explain my approach to and style of mediation so that they know what to expect (as well as what not to expect) from me.
Now, clients are not the only ones whose expectations need to be managed! Ken Cloke in his book Mediating Dangerously expressed the view that for mediators too, “it is invaluable to periodically evaluate our expectations and observe how they mold our realities.” My experience with this TV-watching client made me realize that my own expectations—firstly, that potential clients who had experienced mediation with another mediator would (somehow) be prepared for my style of mediation and secondly, that those who had not experienced mediation personally would have no knowledge of it whatsoever—were false and consequently I was losing a valuable opportunity to educate and be educated.
Television, movies and even YouTube can provide a lot of information—some good and some bad. The expectations that exposure to these media can create can be managed. Turns out that reel-life mediator Kate had a lot to teach real-life mediator Kathy.