I feel like beginning this post with the sentence: pride; don’t get me started.
That’s because pride is an enormously complex subject. First, is it good or bad? The answer is: it depends. Pride that makes us act in self-defeating ways is bad; pride that protects us from humiliation is reasonable; pride that helps us feel good about our positive accomplishments is good. Perhaps we should avoid using the word pride, or unpack the word whenever we use it, or we are liable to end up in a morass of confusion.
How is all this relevant to mediation? Again, don’t get me started. Pride stops people from accepting resolutions that are reasonable. On the other hand, recognizing someone’s need to avoid being humiliated is a way for a party to formulate an approach in mediation that will avoid coming up against someone’s sense of pride. And finally, a party’s overt recognition that another party has done something he is justifiably proud of can be the basis for improved communication, mutual positive feeling and the road to agreement.
In order to be clear on what we are talking about at any given time, it may be helpful to avoid using the word “pride” whenever possible. Finding the right word is key to describing an issue to add to a list of issues in a mediation or to summarize the various concerns of the parties. So, what words can we use instead of pride? Words like ” recognition” might describe the positive goals connected with pride. Words like: “avoiding humiliation” might describe the feared negatives that can be a legitimate goal for a party.
As mediators, in order to help the parties decide when they are behaving in ways that reflect positive versus negative pride, we can ask them to reflect (within themselves) upon what their reasons are for taking the stand they are taking; are the reasons logical? Are they making any assumption that are questionable? Have they thought it through and decided whether it is really best for them? Of course, as mediators, we must be careful not to single out any one party when we do this, but to say it to both parties at once, for them to reflect upon and not as a question that must be answered aloud.
Parties are often stymied by the need to take a position dictated by pride. In such cases, parties have determined that giving up that position — while perhaps to everyone’s benefit and no one’s detriment — would somehow be humiliating
This can be a tricky issue, because, after all, avoiding humiliation can be a legitimate goal of a party.
In my mind, the way to approach this dilemma is to help parties think about why they will feel humiliated and to reality test the outcome if they hold on to their positions versus the outcome if they take on a different position. In this way, a party can recognize the cost of pride as well as reconsider whether there really will be a sense of humiliation. Parties who consider these matters will often reconsider their pride-induced positions, decide to address their other needs and interests in a way that takes into account the needs and interests of the other side, and as an added benefit, derive a greater sense of self-awareness and personal growth in the process. Again, when helping the parties consider these matters, mediators should be careful not to insist that parties reveal their innermost thoughts, but should just suggest that parties consider these matters internally. And again, mediators should be careful not to highlight any particular position as questionable, but instead should have both parties reflect internally in this way and consider their positions. Choosing the best time to make that suggestion so as not to highlight a particular party’s position and so as to maximize the possibility that the parties are each at a point at which they will derive value from this type of self-reflection is part of the art of mediation.