Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Humor in Mediation and Divorce

In times of conflict and trouble, one of the first qualities that we lose is our sense of humor.

Humor, injected into mediation in an appropriate way, can soften all of these attitudes and help the parties move forward. I know a mediator who, during the opening phase will sometimes note that the bathrooms are down the hall to the left, "but no one is allowed to go there until we have reached resolution." This unexpected, and absurd, statement is most always appreciated by the parties as an effort to lighten the moment. It serves to ease tensions a little, brings on some smiles, and in a way reinforces the commitment to actually work hard toward finding a resolution. It underscores in a humorous way the "why" everyone has come to the table.
A good mediator is to be able to recognize when and how to inject humor, in a respectful way, into the process. This is not always easy, as it involves taking a risk that the humor won’t be well accepted. But mediating well is a process of risk taking, as Kenneth Close notes in "Mediating Dangerously." Used with care and respect, humor can be a powerful tool in the mediator’s kit. And sometimes the participants in the process will rise to the occasion and inject their own healing humorous comments. Below is a cartoon I like about mediation and a joke about mediators. Do you have a cartoon, joke or story you would like to share? As always, post a comment with us. There are instructions in our first blog which tells you how. WM 2/5/08

How many mediators does it take to change a lightbulb?
Well, let's unpack that shall we?
First of all, let's be clear that it isn't the mediator's function to change the lightbulb.
The mediator will explore with the lightbulb how it feels about the on and off nature of its job, its unhappiness at always having to work nights, and its relationships with the other parties, including the new lightbulbs that it feels are a threat to its position.
The mediator will talk to the new lightbulbs, reframing and normalizing their observation that the principal lightbulb is completely out of its box, and identifying that their real issue is that being picked on one at a time constantly undermines their team spirit.
The darkness seems quite hostile to all the lightbulbs and keeps telling them to go and unscrew themselves. The mediator will allow it to vent its anger and express its distress at how it always feels unwanted.
The mediator will help guide the darkness and the lightbulbs, both new and mature, to a solution reflecting their new understanding of each other. Bright sparks will realise that you'll have to be left in the dark now because the final outcome is confidential.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Hi. I've noticed the lightbulb joke on one or more websites. I'd like to use it in our upcoming edition of our Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the Washington State Bar Assn. May I have your permission to do so? I notice you encourage sending it via e-mail. It would only appear in our Summer edition. Thanks.