Bullies and bullying have gained a lot of attention recently. What used to be part of every child’s life can now result in severe repercussions. And that’s not a bad thing. As a society, we have recognized the tremendous harm which comes from bullying behavior and have decided that we simply aren’t going to allow those with the upper hand to mistreat others any longer. Standing up for those bullied is not new for attorneys. It’s what we do. But mediation is a unique setting for advocates. And it’s no place for bullies.
One of my jobs as a mediator is to ensure that everyone involved in the process – parties and attorneys alike – feel safe and secure in our negotiation setting. While bullying is often present in domestic mediations, bullies can often frequently be found in any civil setting. Bullies aren’t limited to parties. We all know and have dealt with attorneys who are bullies. Unfortunately, there are also judge bullies and even mediator bullies.
Unfortunately, just as the bullies aren’t limited to the parties, their victims are not either. I have seen far too many occasions where the bully is the client and the victim is the lawyer.Just as society cannot be rid of bullies, mediations cannot avoid them either. But they cannot be allowed to engage in bullying while at the mediation.
How can bullying be prevented at mediation?
The mediator must be in control of the mediation. One of the first lessons learned by a judge is the importance of maintaining control of your courtroom. I learned it early and it served me well for my 20 years on the bench. This does not mean that a judge or mediator must be a tyrant. Successfully managing people and their emotions is a lost art and a valuable skill this is critically important in both settings. I look for telltale signs of a bully personality and am then prepared to deal with it the minute it raises its ugly head. This may mean separating the bully from the victim, employing authoritarian speech and manners, or dealing with the issue head-on. The same techniques do not work for every situation and with every bully.