I’ve worked with a lot of families over the years.  When I am training family mediators I often tell them about a family I worked with during my time at Unite Ltd.  I was working with my colleague Jo.  I had met the family members at their home.  We held the Joint meeting mediation session in one of Unite’s rooms at the Southlands Centre.

There was mum (Shirley), dad (Rob) and fifteen years old son (Dan).  For about twenty minutes Rob and Dan talked to each other.  They were basically having an argument. They were clearly both angry with each other and had a lot to discuss. Shirley didn’t say a word.  She didn’t speak once in twenty minutes.

Jo and I didn’t need to do much during those twenty minutes. Occasionally one of us would stop Rob and Dan from talking over each other. Once or twice we checked that one of them had properly understood something that the other had said. And a couple of times we stopped them going off on a tangent when it looked like they had been making some real progress on an issue.

After twenty minutes Dan turned to Jo and I and said ‘You see, the problem is that when me and my dad have an argument we end up shouting at each. We both storm off in different directions and nothing ever gets resolved.

I said ‘Well, I’ve been sat here listening to you and your dad having an argument for the last twenty minutes and I haven’t heard any shouting.’

The three of them looked at each other. And then Shirley spoke for the first time. Sounding as if she was talking to herself she said, ‘This is unreal’. Then, turning to Jo and I she said ‘Can you two come and live in our house?’ Jo replied ‘No, of course not, but you don’t need us to. You’ve seen how to have an argument in a positive and productive way. It’s about listening to each other, allowing each other to speak and not allowing yourselves to become distracted’.

Sometimes, all people need is a bit of space, a bit of time and a few ground rules.  And it really can be as simple as that.

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The subtle art of family mediation