Impasse. Before we even ask the question of what we do about it when we get there, it's a good idea to ask what more we can do to avoid it. Two ideas come to mind, and both happen before the parties even enter the room. Because like any picture, where the backdrop, the lighting, and the camera can make an extraordinary photograph of an ordinary object, setting the stage for mediation can also offer powerful results. Because like any picture, where the backdrop, the lighting, and the camera can make an extraordinary photograph of an ordinary object, setting the stage for mediation can also offer powerful results.
One way is to help clients set a standard for success, and that may also mean that you help them shift from a single point of expectation to the greater range of a standard. That alone can increase the chances of a satisfactory outcome for clients. One reason for this is that it helps you ensure that your style is appropriate. It also gives a little context, setting the stage. And in the event that a person was only prepared for one specific outcome, you would be helping them greatly if you help them discover that there may be more possibilities they could be satisfied with. That discussion may also help them identify their reasons and what is important, which offers a great springboard for discussion. It's helping to preframe the session.
When I trained as a coach, we learned that pre-frames, setting the stage for the session or the strategy, can do some of the heavy-lifting. And while setting the standards is one, there may be others that would work as well. What is a pre-frame? Anything that puts the session (or strategy) in context or heads off a potential objection (in the selling sense, not legal).
A discussion about the process is one possible pre-frame. It may be possible to get a little more commitment or buy-in if you are able to explain a little about the process you use in sessions in a way that it relates to what the client has already said. Maybe during the session you decide to use a particular technique and can give it some context first using some of the clients' words. Discussing what your services are and are not as well as benefits of the style you use (if you are a mediator) would qualify too.
A pre-frame may even be giving them a new meaning for something that may come up. You could, for example, let them know that they may feel a little confused at some point, and that if they do, it may be a good thing because it means their perspective is expanding, which can help bring about resolution. Even rapport, in creating an environment of trust, empathy, and respect, may serve as a pre-frame.
Whatever you do to set the stage and create an ideal environment, attitude, and experience lends itself nicely to creating buy-in. And that buy-in may lead to greater commitment and outcomes.
Both creating a standard and pre-framing are a little like opening statements for a case, a trailer for a movie, an agenda for a meeting, or learning objectives for a course. They get the audience's attention and build interest. And an audience that is paying attention with interest shows up better prepared, has better focus, and wants the event to succeed.