Election Fatigue – Three Steps to Eliminating Washington Gridlock using Mediation Techniques

Like many, I am fatigued by the barrage of ads and endless news coverage of the 2012 election. Personally I am grateful for the fact that I don’t live in a swing state. I can’t imagine the saturation point of the average citizen there. I never thought an ad for a personal hygiene product or for a drug that will cure some dysfunction would bring a sense of relief while watching a little television.

For me however, watching the election of 2012 was more troubling because so many of the approaches, behaviors and activities being played out on the national stage were the very things I work day in and day out to eliminate as a mediator and Collaborative Attorney. The polarizations, personal characterizations and positional approaches make it harder for people to work together to build consensus.

So what recommendations would I make to help Washington break its gridlock and get back to the work of the people? My experiences with mediation clients can help highlight some potential options. Here are three are three steps that can lead us forward in a very productive way.

First, insist on an atmosphere of respect. Personal attacks, belittling comments and broad generalizations about others have no place in a mediation and will have a detrimental impact on any negotiation. Instead, all parties have to begin to truly accept that those who hold positions that vary from their own are not “bad” people because of it. I would ask each politician to consider their staunchest opponent and then list three things about that person that reminds them of themselves. Personalizing the “enemy” in this way should lead to a decrease in the acrimonious rhetoric.

Second, create a mutual acknowledgement that some differences because of ideology will just not be able to be diminished. In mediations, I typically get clients who want to win the war on the “facts” of a particular event. After allowing each to present their perspective, I often inquire if there is anything the other could say that would change this perception of the past. Accepting that those differences will just coexist frees the parties to focus on other issues. We need our politicians in Washington to start focusing less on their differences and more on the common needs of all the people.

Lastly, I would suggest that we take a little more time to celebrate the successes. I regularly highlight for my clients the “mini” agreements they have reached throughout the process. This positive momentum helps build consensus on other more difficult topics. Too often, clients and politicians focus on why something failed. We need to focus more on the concrete successes.

Our President has presented a message for moving forward. I would suggest that he and all of our elected officials consider the above steps as a way to help them begin moving forward together.

Martin Murphy, Esq. is a collaborative attorney and seasoned mediator. He is dedicated to using the principles and benefits of mediation and collaborative law in the general representation of businesses, their owners and in helping families facing divorce, child custody and other family law issues. The Law Office of Martin Murphy, LLC located in Norwood MA, serves clients in the surrounding communities including Attleboro, Canton, Foxboro, Franklin, Mansfield, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleboro, Plainville, Sharon, Walpole, Westwood, and Wrentham., Marty can be reached at marty@martinmurphyatlaw.com