Why mediation works
Certified Family Law Specialist
“Reactive devaluation”. That is the take away term from a mediation training I attended in May of 2012. The term describes a phenomenon I”ve identified as a mediator, divorce lawyer and one time Husband, but it took the training to give that phenomenon a name.
In the context of divorce mediation, parties generally harbor negative feelings about their spouse or former spouse. Those negative feelings compromise the ability of one party to hear the other, no matter how valid or important the message. Polarized parties react by devaluing the message because they don’t like the messenger.
For a while, I thought mediation worked because parties in mediation recognize they can control the outcome and avoid the uncertainty of discretion exercised by a judge. I still think that’s true in part. Good lawyers in mediation certainly understand controlling risk.
But, as I continue to mediate for parties in the context of divorce, it is increasingly clear to me that it is my ability to serve as a substitute messenger, and a filter, that brings people to agreement. As a mediator, I find it rewarding to carry and deliver important messages that might otherwise be reactively devalued and not received.
There is a connection between this concept of “reactive devaluation” and Stephen Covey’s 6th habit of empathic listening, the habit of seeking first to understand before being understood. Negative feelings and emotions can interfere with the implementation of that habit.
At the recent recommendation of a great judge, I’ve read Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. This book was foundational for Covey, and it ties nicely into the concept of reactive devaluation. Frankl (and Covey) emphasize that we have the freedom to choose, at all moments of life, how we will react, even in the worst of circumstances.
Mediation is a great tool when you are the messenger getting shot, the one doing the shooting, or both. You have the freedom to choose how you will react to the difficult circumstances of divorce. We can help you hear important messages. We can help you deliver them.