How a simple introduction made such a difference
Earlier this year, I mediated a landlord and tenant dispute between individuals, relating to a retail property. The mediation was booked under our 3 hour fixed price scheme.
During my initial, private sessions with the parties and their solicitors, I discovered that the parties themselves had never actually met face-to-face, despite one of them having been the owner, and the other the occupier of the property over many years.
The only previous communications between the parties had been in writing. The correspondence they had exchanged, in the past, was cordial enough but did not give the impression of two individuals that enjoyed a good working relationship.
The tenant had only ever encountered the landlord’s solicitor in person, having attended previous, preliminary Court hearings, at a time when he was conducting the litigation without the help of a lawyer.
The Joint Session
It struck me that, in spite of time being limited for the mediation, an initial joint session between the parties might help move matters forward. I surmised that, if the parties were able to sit in the same room and engage in some initial, brief, polite exchanges, this could provide a solid base from which negotiations might then ensue. As many mediators will tell you, this is very often the best way to ‘get the ball rolling’.
Both parties and their legal teams approved the holding of a joint session. Although, as one would expect, the meeting showed that there was disagreement regarding the issues at stake, the parties conducted themselves in a faultless manner and made their points as concisely as possible. There was no animosity in the room and, in a move that was really quite striking, both parties stated that, having met each other, in person, for the first time, there and then, the appearance and attitude of the other was “not what they were expecting”.
This simple acknowledgment really broke down any initial barriers to communication and left the parties feeling a little more relaxed.
Although the subsequent negotiations were, in fairness, far from straightforward, the case did settle, with a written agreement being typed up and signed, all within the allotted 3 hour slot.
In a nice personal touch, hands were shaken at the end of the mediation and it occurred to me that the parties’ relationship, in some small way, might have been strengthened by the whole experience that a successful mediation can create. I doubt that this would have been the case if the litigation had continued. In that scenario, the parties would probably have been less likely to meet each other, in a neutral, non-adversarial setting, before costs became excessive and the parties’ differences too ingrained.