Just One Word

I have no way of verifying this, but I may just hold the record for one of the shortest mediations ever conducted. Early into my mediation career I was asked by an organisation to help solve a dispute between two senior colleagues. The spat took place 6 months before the organisation called me. What happened was that, during a team meeting, one person said something, publicly, and their colleague took offence. For the next 6 months they didn’t talk to each other even though their jobs required them to work closely together. They spoke through intermediaries.

Once the organisational commissioner had got their permission to put the case to mediation I made contact with them. I arranged to meet each individually, to hear their side of the story and explain how the mediation process works. One of them explained to me how she had become physically ill as a result of the fall out. She wasn’t sleeping, was highly stressed and had lost huge amounts of weight. By the way, if you are thinking that might be a good thing, there are other methods of dieting that produce less side effects.. On the day of the mediation we had a joint session where I invited them to say to each other why they believed the mediation was necessary. I asked Sally (a made up name) to go first. Sally spoke about what she heard in the team meeting, the way it made her feel and the personal impact it had had on her life. As she spoke I saw a noticeable change in Harriet’s (another made up name) body language.

When Sally finished, I asked Harriet to respond. She responded by saying one word. Sorry. She said that she had no idea that what she said would have impacted Sally in this way. As she spoke, her body language was congruent. I could see that she meant it. More importantly, Sally could too. Sally shed a tear, which was soon followed by laughter. It took under 30 minutes to get to this stage. My job was over. Well, not quite, but nearly.

We stayed together for a while longer to agree and document an action plan to make sure that there would be no reoccurrences. I agreed to check in with them after 30 days to make sure that all was still well.

When the session finished, I remember driving away from the venue and looking in my car mirror to see them still in the car park talking to each other. Two days later, Sally phoned me. She said “Clive it’s Sally. I just want to thank you. For the first time in 6 months I have just had two sound nights of sleep”. This gave me a huge sense of job satisfaction. Unfortunately, not all mediation sessions go like this. But I thought, how sad that it took 6 months before the boil was lanced. What were the emotional, physical and financial costs during this period?

Sometimes just one word is all that is needed to keep relationships at work intact. Sorry. It’s a small word with a big meaning. Sadly, Sorry often seems to be the hardest word. Please don’t ask me to sing it though…

Have a good week.