Mediation and The Pot of Stew

When we talk about the settlement of a dispute or conflict by mediation, I believe we can liken it to a pot of stew. Let me tell you a little about the pot of stew. It is all very well prepared. Everybody likes it. Everybody enjoys it. It is well seasoned. It has some of the finest fragrances and condiments and things like that. It is an excellent thing for the man who loves his food or the woman who appreciates good cooking. And the interesting thing is that everybody who comes there may have a different mindset and they come from a different background. But inside that pot of stew, there is something that unites all of them. One person may like fish, but not eat meat, one may like meat or beef, but does not eat pork. One may like pork, but neither eats fish nor beef, while another person eats none of those. But he loves snails. The beauty of it is they will all eat from the same pot of stew. They will all enjoy themselves equally because the man who loves his beef gets his beef. The man who needs his fish gets his fish. The man who needs snails gets snails. And they are all happy around the pot of stew.

It is an amazing thing because it teaches us a little bit about mediation much more than you realize. Because what mediation does is not so much that it satisfies one person, or that another person is forced to make a compromise. The mediator in his heart knows how to find for each person what he needs. By carefully questioning them and leading them through the exploration/probing process, he gets to discover the person who needs his beef but does not need fish. The other fellow needs fish but does not eat beef. And they are all happy because the one who needs fish is not forced to eat beef. It is not that s/he’s made to take half the piece of beef or half the piece of fish. It is not that s/he gets to make do without anything at all or just take a bland stew without anything in it.

The beauty of mediation is it helps us to find that path where everybody finds what they want and gets what they need; they are fully satisfied. No one has to compromise. S/he is happy and might say, “Well, you got the fish. So, does it matter? I couldn’t care less anyway. Why? I don’t need the fish. It is the beef I need.” Someone might even say, “Well, I don’t know about all of you with the beef and things like that. I love the vegetables. That’s what I need. I don’t mean. I don’t want beef. Beef has cholesterol, all of that. It is not good for me. That is not what I need.”

And that’s why in authentic mediation we talk of identifying fundamental needs — and the fundamental needs of the respective parties differ from each, sometimes as far as day and night — and the underlying interests, the things that are driving them. The person who loves fish, who does not eat beef, he’s probably running away from cholesterol. Why is he running away from cholesterol? Because he has a history of high blood pressure. He already has problems with his kidney or with his heart and does not want to add to it. So, he runs away from anything that has high cholesterol. He takes fish. That is what he needs. So, what I need to let him know is that, hey, I must present to the parties that pot of stew that all of them can enjoy, but that has everything that meets everybody’s fundamental need, addresses everybody’s underlying interests, and they can all sit happily around the table eating from the same pot of stew. That is what we talk about when we talk of bringing a relationship together. That is what makes them one. That is what makes them reconcile. That is what builds that bridge that unites them. That is the peacemaking. That is the relationship protecting. It is the lesson we learn from the pot of stew about authentic mediation; the mediation that works and the mediation we offer at The Dispute Solutions Hub.


  1. Bravo!! You couldn’t have put it better. TDSH certainly offers this and much more.
    Potential users of TDSH services really need to take advantage of their offerings.
    On a lighter note we don’t usually cook fish with the beef. We cook different types of meat with chicken and beef separately.

    1. Indeed, so! We don’t! This further accentuates the character of a skillfully held mediation. It does not just dump all together, but discerningly separates the wheat from the chaff. Thank you for helping to highlight this dimension.

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