Timing Is Everything
Whether you are swinging a bat at a 100 mph fastbalI or trying to engage in a difficult conversation, timing is everything. Just like a poorly timed swing of the bat, a challenging discussion started too early or too late can result in a strike or foul ball.
As mediators, we are often asked, "When is the right time to engage in mediation?" The general rule is the sooner the better. Delaying mediation can result in parties becoming further entrenched in their positions. Options that were once appealing to the parties may no longer be possible. Yet despite the advantages of early mediation, it often doesn’t happen.
Many people put off dealing with unpleasant things, including financial problems, and farmers and ranchers are no different. The Agricultural Mediation Program often works with farmers who are facing problems with lenders and creditors. Unfortunately, some wait until the eleventh hour and contact the mediation program only when the situation has become dire, instead of addressing the issue early on. Resolving the problem becomes much more complicated when lenders threaten foreclosure or creditors send the account to a collection agency or lawyer. While it may be a relief to know that others also delay dealing with difficult situations, we urge farmers and producers to contact the mediation program as early as possible to see if we can help.
While early mediation is usually preferable, the parties also have to be prepared to engage in mediation constructively. Sometimes a situation isn’t ripe for mediation because one party may be counting on some event or process that they hope will resolve the issue. In that situation, it can be prudent to wait until the parties are ready, so long as the reason for a delay is reasonable.
Right timing also means ensuring that you have the right people at the table with the information they need to address the issues at hand. One of the less publicized benefits of mediation is that the mediator works with the parties to ensure they are prepared for the mediation session.
The mediator interviews all parties before the mediation session to learn background information about the situation and what information is necessary for the parties to resolve the issue. For example, during a pre-mediation conversation, the mediator may discover that the lender needs to know the farmer’s financial projections before the lender can make an informed decision. If the mediation session was held without that information, the mediation would likely grind to a halt early in the process and the parties may hesitate about coming back together.
In this way, the mediator serves as a “negotiation coach,” priming the parties to optimize the chances of reaching settlement. The timing is right to schedule the mediation when the parties have the information needed for a constructive discussion. And when the timing is right, the chances of getting a hit or even a home run are much more likely.