On one of the coldest days last winter, I was heading to the western shore across the Bay Bridge to conduct a mediation in the Maryland District Court in Rockville. The wind was howling, and I am sure there were small craft warnings posted on the Bay. As I glanced to my right I saw large white tents on the shore of the Sandy Point State Park and a large sign inviting you to “take the plunge.”
Every February, the Maryland State Police, and other organizations sponsor the Polar Bear Plunge to raise money to support Maryland’s 4300 Special Olympics Athletes. In one event, the Super Plunge, hearty souls enter the frigid water every hour for 24 hours. Over 19 years, that event alone has raised over $3 million. To say that it takes commitment and bravery to participate is an understatement.
Over the past months, I have mediated over 50 disputes. If you have followed this column you know that mediation is a confidential and voluntary conversation with the goal of finding a resolution to a conflict that, although not perfect, allows the parties to move on with their lives.
The mediation process requires the parties to take at least 2 “plunges.” The first is to agree to the mediation process. By agreeing, the parties must be willing to commit to sharing their point of view and listening to the other side. That is not easy, as parties often see the same event differently. Also, by agreeing to the process, the parties, at a minimum, are willing to consider compromise. When one side or the other comes to the conversation with the attitude, “I am not going to budge one inch,” time is simply wasted.
The second plunge is often more difficult. A large component of mediation is negotiation. We negotiate every day, and in that process, we listen to offers and accept or respond with a counteroffer. Sides get closer, terms are discussed, and settlement results. The second plunge is for one party to make the first offer, the first step toward compromise. That certainly involves risk, but once one party makes an offer of settlement, the dynamics of the mediation change. The second party recognizes that the other is serious about finding a resolution and that it is now up to them to keep the process moving forward. The role of the mediator is to ensure the parties talk with each other and not simply at each other.
Like taking the Polar Plunge for the Special Olympics, making the first offer in mediation can be scary and requires commitment, but it can lead to a positive outcome.
If you want to take the Polar Plunge next February or support those who are, please visit www.plungemd.com. It is for a great cause.
Steve Forrer, the former dean and vice-chancellor of the University of Maryland Global Campus, is currently a mediator for the Maryland District and Circuit Courts. Questions can be submitted at www.doncastermediation.com/contact for Steve to answer in this column. He also accepts private mediation.
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