The Importance of Acceptance Time

At some point in nearly every mediation I am asked, “Can’t we just cut to the chase?” Sometimes this frustration emerges early; other times it appears much later in the day. No matter when it arises, I always ask the parties to trust the process. It doesn’t sound like a very reassuring answer, but acceptance time is a key factor in mediation. The concept is built into the mediation process itself, but participants on both sides of the table often discount its importance.

Why? People resist change. That is why books like Who Moved My Cheese? and Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard sell so well on Amazon.
Parties enter a mediation with certain expectations – expectations which have formed their reality for months or even years of litigation. As the parties engage in the mediation process, they discuss outcomes which likely differ greatly from those expectations. They have had challenged their preconceptions about the legal process, their belief in the strength of their positions and their assumptions concerning the possible outcomes of their case. The parties find these discussions foreign and more than likely unpleasant; and as you might expect, they resist.
There are ways to combat this resistance. First, a keen negotiator understands that the other side will need time to process these new ideas. While a mediation incorporates time into the process, they are mindful that decisions take some time and they should try not to rush the mediation.
Second, the smart negotiator presents ideas and offers in an incremental manner so as not to overwhelm the other side. By working towards a settlement incrementally, you afford them the opportunity to fully evaluate your offers.
Third, an effective negotiator provides some explanation of their reasoning with their offer, especially early in the mediation or negotiation. This helps convey that they have conducted a thoughtful analysis of the case and have considered their options before making a move. Research also shows that offers or demands accompanied by a rationale are better received than those without.
It may take some time for the other party to come to terms with the compromise solution the parties are working toward. Closing the gap in one fell swoop may leave one party feeling as if they have conceded too much ground. Let the mediation process work. Mediation allows the parties the time to digest the information that has been exchanged, fully understand the options presented, comprehend the potential results, and come to terms with the settlement proposed.
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