Small gestures – Powerful effects

Small gestures – Powerful effects

Take Gibraltar as an example. It is a small piece of property, 2.625 square miles on the Mediterranean coast. Yet its significance to Britain in terms of strategic military bases, control over the Mediterranean, access to North Africa, intelligence gathering, is vastly disproportionate to its diminutive size.

In complex and entrenched disputes, or when a dispute has entered a deadlock in mediation, one tool which the mediator may suggest as a way of easing tension between the parties is that each party offer the other a gesture of goodwill. The effect of even a relatively small gesture can be disproportionate to its material value in dispute resolution.

In resolving disputes, it is not always the size of the concession one party makes that can influence the outcome of the mediation, but the significance to the other party of the gesture. By way of example, in one very deeply entrenched family dispute over a property between a brother and sister, the talks had stalled for the best part of the day. The sister refused to agree to any deal with her brother over the future of the property, and without her consent, nothing could be achieved.

Eventually the mediator sought to ease tensions between the parties by suggesting that the brother make a gesture of good will to his sister. He decided to give her a gift of her mothers’ jewellery box and some trinkets that their mother had kept on her dressing table, which had somehow ended up in his possession. These items had very minimal material value, but a large amount of sentimental value. When he gifted these items to his sister, she changed completely, and came back to the negotiating table with a different mind-set.

So if you are in a dispute, think about what you might offer to the other party as ‘an olive branch’ to ease tension and bring an atmosphere of goodwill to the mediation. What you offer may be small, but it may have the power to change the course of a dispute.

Mediation – your questions answered

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