People who know me as a mediator often ask what type of disputes are brought to mediation. Of course, there is no simple answer to that question as disputes are as varied as the people involved in them.
Neighbourhood disputes are quite common, possibly over a barking dog, a fence that may or may not be adequate, noise, a tree that drops too many branches or leaves into the neighbour’s garden, a parked car.
Often the neighbours were good friends, or they got along well, and then the situation or behaviour starts to niggle one of them and their relationship starts to sour. Once this happens it is easy to find other slights to bring into the dispute, the snowball begins and the behaviour of one or both parties becomes intolerable to the others. At this point both parties become locked into their positions thinking “I’m right and they are wrong”. They think that backing off would be giving in and “I shouldn’t have to give in because I am right”. This type of “black and white thinking” can have some terrible consequences.
Sometimes the dispute deteriorates to the point where one party goes to the police or the courthouse to apply for an Apprehended Personal Violence Order against their neighbour, which is served, and the dispute has then entered the legal process. If there is no real threat of assault, a magistrate will generally order that parties attend a mediation to attempt to solve their differences, and parties proceed to mediation.
During a mediation I often think that if neighbours had gone to mediation at an earlier stage, they could have spared themselves a lot of stress, acrimony and vitriol.
The statistics show that over 80% of disputes that go to mediation are satisfactorily resolved at mediation, and parties avoid the very costly court process.
It’s not a matter of winning or losing, it’s about collaborating and compromising and working towards a win-win solution.