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Mediation Is So Much More Than Compromise

October 20, 2013

I don’t happen to like the word compromise. It infers giving something up in order to attain something else. I have yet to meet anyone who really wants to give up anything. In stead of compromise, I like to think of the word prioritize.

If in raising children, your priority is healthy, well adjusted responsible adults, capable of independent living and sustaining meaningful intimate relationships wherein you can also maintain a lifelong relationship with your adult child, then mediation may be well suited to you.

Here’s how it works:

Two chefs in the same kitchen needed a dozen lemons to complete their dish. As they fought over the last remaining dozen, someone said they should each use six. However, without the proper amount, neither dish would be satisfactory. That solution wouldn’t work, and neither chef could see past the conflict and their fight raged on.

The dishwasher hearing their conflict wandered over and asked each chef what they were making and why they needed a full dozen lemons.

Turns out that one chef needed just the rinds, to be candied for a dessert. The other chef needed just the juice to make civiche (fish marinated in a citrus juice).

It turns out they each needed a dozen lemons, but each had a different reason, although their interest was the same – to create their beautiful dish. Despite mutual animosity between the chefs, because they finally were aided in discussion, the solution presented itself.

The dishwasher was the perfect mediator. With no vested interest in the outcome, just a curiosity about their needs, wants and interests, a solution arose without imposition that was eloquent and wholly appropriate to both chefs’ needs. They each went on to make splendid dishes.

This then is mediation.

This is what we must explain to lawyers who see mediation as only a compromise where each must lose in one area to gain in another. This is also how we must explain mediation to separated parents who need support to resolve conflict.

Of course mediation is not suitable to everyone, but likely more suitable to at least some of those those who walk by or are directed elsewhere.

If you are a lawyer worried about losing a client or even if you are a mediator thinking you can mediate anything, consider this: Credibility of one’s practice is not the outcome of taking every client, but of knowing when to refer to another. That goes for lawyers and mediators.

In the absence of violence and the presence of clients who while animosity may be a feature, but some degree of reasonableness remains, then mediation may be a viable option. We can spare these persons the race to the bottom where winning a case typically comes at the expense of the other losing. These lop-sided outcomes create ongoing animosity and resentment which do not bode well for the emotional world to which the child is exposed. That is why imposed solutions are not as durable, do not last as long, as mediated solutions or solutions obtained where the parties retain control of the outcome.

However, if animosity reigns, the result of tremendous intractable wounds (emotional, psychological, physical, financial) wherein one side may succumb to the other more the result of fear, intimidation or loss of power or where risk of or ongoing injury remains, then mediation is likely not a suitable solution and other structures may be needed to achieve a more balanced outcome, despite the feelings engendered in the process. This is a catch 22 where one weighs the ability to resolve matters reasonably against the probability of bad feelings the result of contested solutions.

Consider mediation. Do not excuse it from the get-go just because of anger or animosity.

Ask yourself; ask your client:

Can one get one’s ego out of the way? Can one see past their nose to a greater priority and play to that priority? This may mean subordinating one’s needs to the greater priority, but in so doing, one loses nothing if that greater priority is achieved.

The greater priority is the ongoing life of the child, now and through to their adulthood and the parent’s ability and achieved context to facilitate a now and then adult relationship with their child.

Ask yourself, doing what I do now, how will that play to that longer term priority.

Think of mediation. Don’t compromise on that life-long goal.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.


Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. Compromise is an agreement or settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions or settle a dispute by mutual concession.

    Mediation is not settling a dispute but giving the option for the person to agree on a mutual idea of theirs for a change to happen in other words dealing with the conflict by initiating an action so it’s more like counselling and compromising for an action of change initiation.

    Anyway this is how I view it, your view seems confusing.

  2. Deliwe Menyuko permalink

    Hi Gary, thank you for the good viewpoint on mediation. I wish parents could look at the child’s wellbeing as the longterm priority instead of their own egos.

    Thank you once more.
    Always a fan.

  3. kmatchunis permalink

    Great article, Gary! Many people believe that compromise is the best way to resolve a conflict, but are not aware that collaboration will render more long-lasting results, although one may have to invest more time in getting to a resolution. Excellent explanation of mediation and its benefits! Bravo!

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