No one wants strife in their life. We especially want peace where we live. Conflict seems inevitable in the proximity of condominium living.
As a warrior lawyer, I know what it is to fight to win. As a mediator, I know what it means to practice peace and find common ground. After having spent more than twenty years in the legal field, my experience is that the path to peace is the more-lasting, and is really the “win” that matters the most.
We have all heard the horror stories about the $40,000 parrot, which is what one Corporation spent in legal fees to “evict” an unlawful bird, who it turns out had “flown the coop” anyway. What about the case over a $500 set of drapes going to litigation that wound up costing $15,000 in legal fees? How about the homeowner who spent $40,000 in legal fees over a $750 fence, with a resulting judgment in the amount of $61,000 to the other side, as the prevailing party? Those in the condominium industry have heard and seen a lot.
Litigation is an imperfect tool with an uncertain outcome to meet Condominium Corporation objectives. Every day spent in the process, the more money it costs. The more time that passes. The more strife you have in your life.
Litigation is costly, contentious, continued and contested. Mediation is cost-effective and confidential– where creative solutions can be reached and common ground is found by a neutral. Mediation is an approach to resolution that is quicker and less costly than traditional legal processes. It can be both an alternative to and a complement to legal proceedings.
A key advantage to mediation is that it surfaces fears and interests of the parties; addresses them; and deals with them. Strict legal forums do not allow for much more than facts, supporting evidence, tight procedural rules and handing over the issue to someone who takes a technical view and declares a winner. At the end of the long path of litigation, more likely than not, both the losers and winners hold onto their fears and distrust; waiting for the next battle to take place.
In condominium communities, people have to continue to live together. Even after suing your neighbor, when the dust settles, the combatants are still in the same community. Relationships are complex, often irrational and almost always emotional. Mediation can help rivals stop playing the blame game and put them on a course towards mutual gain.
We gain more from agreement than disagreement. A skilled mediator can act a guide to explore all options, surface all areas of commonality, and assure everyone’s interests are explored. Mediation is the facilitation of all points of view for everyone to consider and acknowledge.
There is common ground in condominium living. There are shared interests. Each neighbor wants the same things: peace where they live; a reliable process to ensure that the Corporation is maintained; and to preserve the highest value for their unit.
Instead of being a right fighter, who seeks to win at any cost, mediation is about finding common ground and then removing the obstacles that hinder arriving at a solution. In mediation, parties can turn their time and energy into resolving a case, instead of an all out war.
Mediation helps parties consider a range of options and create a framework for a workable solution. It strengthens and preserves relationships. After all, in condominium living, you are all in it together.
As a lawyer-mediator, I recognize that when people are in conflict, they want to move from a place of weakness to a place of strength. It is satisfying to play a role in facilitating the negotiations between two warring parties to help them come together. My approach is based on the idea that people in conflict are seeking to make empowerment and recognition shifts. That is, they want to avoid being victimized, and when they gain confidence that they aren’t being victimized, they tend to stop victimizing each other. People in conflict can find their way back to strength and responsiveness through the mediation process.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), like mediation, does not replace the legal system. Rather it is intended to compliment the legal system and help it work more effectively by separating the substantive, procedural and psychological issues that comprise many community living disputes.
The famous quotation from Abraham Lincoln can serve as a guide to those in the law: “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” That is a constant reminder of the validation of what I do every day with my legal career as a mediator. Consider the notion that lawyers are peacemakers instead of warriors- What if those trained in the law and with negotiation skills were engaged by neighbors to seek resolution instead of winning? If each of us indulged ourselves and one another in the power of peace, or at least peacemaking in memory of Lincoln, wouldn’t the world, or at least condominium associations be a better place? Remember: In the end, peace wins over war– it is peace that will prevail. Mediation can help community associations find the path to that peace.