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In the Driver’s Seat at Mediation

January 23, 2012

With a nod to the Hertz slogan “[putting] you in the driver’s seat,” this piece nevertheless is not about personal injury disputes.

Neither is is about the mediator being in the driver’s seat and leading or controlling the process.

This piece also is not solely about the central theme in mediation of “self-determination,” although self-determination is implied in the image of the driver’s seat as well as the choices inherent from being there.

Rather, this piece is more about “where to look.”  It is about helping people change their focus from “looking back” at what happened to “looking forward” to the solutions and peace.

I ask people in mediation to imagine themselves in the driver’s seat of a car.  I suggest that they have choices about where to look.

Most people in a dispute are focused on what happened or didn’t happen that brought them to this moment.  They replay these past events over and over in their minds, sometimes to the exclusion of all else.  I suggest that that is akin to looking solely into the rear view mirror while in the driver’s seat.

The problem, as we all know, from staring into the rear view mirror is that we do not see where we are going.

I suggest that if, instead, people look out the front windshield, they will see where they can go.

The road ahead is uncertain.  The safest route is settlement.  The risks, costs and dangers of the litigation will have been avoided.

Or, they can choose the more dangerous unpredictable toll road ahead if they continue to litigate.  They might choose that route, but only if they are well prepared for it – with the appropriate money for the trip and with a road map from their counsel for what really might be ahead of them.

If they look ahead, they can choose their route (self-determination).

On the other hand, if they continue to stare into the rear view window only, looking back only at what has happened, they can drive off the road.  Perhaps that is the most dangerous.   They need to look where they are going.

Thus, the driver’s seat image lends itself to the shift from past to future, from behind to ahead.  This is a necessary perspective for mediation inasmuch as mediation is always about the future, what people can do, or not do, that serves their interests best.

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