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Why it pays to think positive

Mary has a problem. The machines she sold to a client malfunctioned. The client refuses to pay until they’re fixed, and is being abusive, but she needs the money to keep the business going

“How would the memory of your father help here?” asks the trainer.

It seems incongruous, but this is part of the positive psychology being taught to mediators as part of the INTA Mediation Continuing Education Course—The Art of Persuasion. The idea is to get parties involved in mediation to think of positive ways they have overcome similar problems in their past. In this example, trainers Jane Juliano and Mary McLain play out a situation where McLain considers how her father inspired her to deal with the fallout from a difficult relationship.

In the same way, Juliano asked her to think about the benefits of a positive outcome to the mediation, such as forming a long-term relationship with the client that led to the growth of her business across North America. “Think big,” Juliano encouraged her. “Think really big.” Exercises like this help turn negative, defensive attitudes into more receptive ones. Given that the parties are usually creative, entrepreneurial people, they often respond well to this opportunity to turn positive.

Sandra A. Sellers, the lead trainer on the course, admits this is a best-case scenario: “Sometimes parties to mediation are too obstreperous or competitive to accept positive techniques.” But that’s ok: there are separate sessions on dealing with difficult personalities.

The two-and-a-half day advanced mediation course, running from Friday to Sunday this year, is limited to 36 people. Six trainers are spread out among the tables, each looking after a group of six throughout the course. It is intimate and interactive.

Last year in Boston INTA introduced a basic mediation course for the first time, and now each Annual Meeting alternates between basic and advanced courses. “This has had the effect of focusing the sessions and bringing people up to the same level,” says Sellers.

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