Last week, I needed to visit a state courthouse — somewhere I rarely see now that I am engaged solely in alternative dispute resolution. As I left, I happened to walk out behind a well-dressed, middle-aged woman striding out the door. Behind me was a well-dressed, middle-aged man. As soon as we left the building, on the sidewalk for all the world to see and hear, they caught up with each other. She slowed and turned toward him, he sped up to her. And then the raised voices began.
I wanted no part of it, and never broke stride. But it was impossible to avoid hearing their verbal confrontation: articulate, impassioned, and very public. I couldn’t tell if this blow-up was occurring between an attorney and client, between two attorneys, between two parties, or some other combination. This much was obvious: the traditional approach to dispute resolution was not working for them and their dispute had spilled onto the sidewalk.
As I went about my business, I reflected on how a private mediation session could have helped. First, they may have been able to reach a resolution that worked for them. Second, they could have taken advantage of a key hallmark of meditation: confidentiality.
Frustrations and verbal outbursts are not absent from the mediation process. But they can happen in private, instead of on a public sidewalk.