Mediation offers way to argue by the rules

Let's argue!

But we're going to play by my rules. Where have we heard that before!

It happens on a daily basis: disputes, frustration, hostility, or an impasse between men, women, men and women, husband and wife, landlord and tenants, an attorney and client, and neighborhood arguments about where the property line is located.

I don't know about you, but I've been there, done that. Most times, nothing is settled to anyone's satisfaction, so the participants go to court and let a third party decide the neutral ground to soothe the hostile verbal traffic.

But how about this for a solution? Mediation! Now, I know what you're thinking, punk. Did I fire six shots or only five ... no, wait a minute, that was a movie. Let me start again. Isn't that where we all sit around in a candle-lit room in a lotus position with our eyes closed - the smell of violet incense wafting toward the ceiling - and hum? Well, you're pretty close, but don't give me the "thumbs-down" treatment until you hear me out. This is a good thing. Trust me.

Creative mediation (check the spelling, it's not meditation) is the key to unlocking the parties involved from their self-justification so they can listen to and validate each other. A court or arbitrator would hear both sides and issue a judgment or ruling. Somebody will lose. But mediation is different. It is voluntary and guided by a trained mediator(s). The parties must try to reach their own settlement - one that is acceptable to both sides.

This is not easy, but mediated settlements have been found to be more effective at resolving disputes and easing the impasse that generates so much hostility and frustration.

The key rules of engagement in mediation are simple:

• We may sing together but we only talk one at a time.

• Be respectful and listen to the other side. Take notes if you wish, and make your rebuttal or comments when your time comes to talk.

• After the mediator(s) have your stories clear, be prepared to engage in healthy, probing discussion.

• Know that all is private in mediation, and the mediators cannot be made legal witnesses nor can they take sides.

Agreements reached under court mediation will be validated as part of the court record.

Emotional upset may be part of the process, and it is better to express it by putting feelings about a situation on the table rather than stuffing them in the back of your mind and harboring resentments for the next decade. Here is where the mediators and participants enter what is called the "red zone," a time, usually early on in mediation, when tempers may still be raw. The potential for explosive reactions to things said by the other side are always lurking and need to be carefully watched through facial and postural cues, otherwise, one or another participant may suddenly decide to end the discussion with a closing outburst and angrily stomp off, slamming the door behind them.

Mediators must remind all participants that they are going to hear things from the other side that they might find hard to digest. But in fact, that is why they are present in the room in the first place - to listen and to fairly entertain a different point of view.

Make notes on things you agree or disagree with, and prepare to explain your position when your time comes to speak. Once a considerate state of discussion is implanted, movement toward the "green zone" is likely assured. Conciliatory action and problem-solving is what this is all about, folks. In times of stress, we all need to give it a try.

Let me put this "creative mediation" into a clear example: Small Claims Court.

Ever been there? It's the best of all worlds for both parties, where no one can use an attorney and each party presents its case, which is ultimately decided by a court volunteer mediator and/or judge. Several years ago, I was involved in taking a company to small claims court in California, where the maximum collection limit was $5,000. It was my first time, but I boned-up on what to expect in court and won my case. You can do the same if you feel you have been wronged and can prove it. In Arizona, the limit is $2,500.

If you're currently in a situation that has been described in this article, Arizona State Attorney General Terry Goddard's office informed me that they offer several variations of informal, confidential mediation. You can reach his office at (800) 352-8431 or online at