Mediation in Divorce – Situational™ Mediation is Like Air Travel

Have you ever taken an airplane ride when you’re up there flying along smoothly and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere you hit turbulence, it gets bumpy, and then you’re bouncing all over the sky? In mediation, the process may be going along smoothly with participants discussing and sorting things out and then all of a sudden one or both participants gets triggered by something that’s said or done, and it gets bumpy. Emotional turbulence is to be expected. But part of the mediator’s job is to help you weather it, that is, to help each participant deal with emotions in ways that further his/her goals, including getting through mediation quickly and inexpensively.

Out of Court Solutions often uses the metaphor comparing mediation to air travel to give participants a visceral understanding of what’s in store for them. We want participants to not only understand Situational™ mediation but to get a feel for it. However, the capacity to feel something is based on experience with it, and most people haven’t experienced mediation. On the other hand, most people have experienced air travel and are aware that both mediation and air travel involve journeys to places known and unknown, liked and disliked. Below, you’ll find similarities between the situational approach to mediation and travel by airplane. So fasten your seatbelt, and prepare for takeoff.

“Pre-Flight” Pre-mediation Consultation

Just as passengers preparing to travel by airplane select a particular airline, flight, and seat number, people preparing for mediation select a particular mediator, setting, and meeting schedule.

“Taking Off” Mediation Begins

The first mediation session begins the journey in mediation, which as with airline travel, entails rules and procedures aimed at ensuring safety and reducing anxiety. For example, just as passengers on an airplane are instructed as to policies regarding seatbelts and emergency exits, participants in mediation are informed about the use of legal counsel, private sessions, etc.

“Gaining Altitude” Getting Current and Understanding

As is typical with airline passengers who feel a wide range of emotions, from calm when flying conditions are smooth to fear when turbulence strikes, participants in mediation are likely to experience varied emotions in the Getting Current stage. In this stage, the mediator may ask participants for permission to remind them of the Rules and Procedures if they abandon, for example, the attitude of mutual respect, which can severely diminish the mediator’s ability to intercede situationally. In terms of the air travel metaphor, if the mediator does not remind participants of the Rules and Procedures, the plane would have already left the gate, making it very difficult to bring it back without taking control or assuming authority, an approach contrary to that of a Situational™ mediator.

“Bumpy Weather” Dealing with Emotions

The air travel metaphor is apt to be helpful at some point during mediation; often all that’s needed for participants to put their emotions aside is for the mediator to acknowledge that they hit “bumpy weather.”

Explaining that emotions are common in mediation, as is bumpy weather in airline travel, normalizes the display of feelings. This metaphor also serves to instill hope that the vast majority of participants “land safely” despite the occurrence of turbulent emotions.

Our mediators assure participants that if they stay seated even when it gets bumpy, in other words stay with the process, they will land safely. Research shows that mediation is effective in over 80% of the cases submitted, and Out of Court Solutions’ success rate is even higher.

“Landing Safely” Finalizing Settlement

At the end of mediation, participants finalize any pending matters and make certain that the final agreement conforms to all decisions made during mediation. The mediator puts the agreement in final form and mails it to each participant. This offers an opportunity to read it again and, if participants choose to, have it reviewed by legal counsel. Then participants mail the final agreement back to the mediator after it’s signed and notarized, effectively landing safely at their destination.

About Oliver Ross

Oliver Ross, JD*, PhD founded Out-of-Court Solutions Inc. in 1995 and since then has mediated over 3,000 divorce and family matters. He is a select member of the Maricopa Superior Court Family Mediation roster