The headlamp beam illuminated the tails of the skis in front of me, my brother’s rhythm marking steady progress up the lower flank of the volcano. Dawn came stealthily, slowly yielding a fiery orb in the land of the rising sun. Our objective was still invisible from our position on the ridge, but I was already grateful for judicious packing and the smooth glide of my skins on the increasingly steep slope. On a mission such as this, any unnecessary weight or friction would have outsized consequences. It was a microcosm of business and of life: to be nimble and light allows one to journey higher and further. Our preparation eased our burdens and buffed out the trail to the summit. We were on the mediator’s path.
Not every disastrous dispute is as obvious as a lawsuit or fistfight. Even tiny tiffs, small tensions, and microaggressions have a way of slowly eroding the strength of a person or corporation. Litigation is a cinder block in the pack and wet, sticky snow underfoot. But the minute conflicts of daily living are no less onerous. They are an extra gram here or an extra tenth of coefficient there. Over enough distance, those seemingly small loads are enough to topple.
Mediation is typically sought as a remedy for large-scale conflict. It may be ordered by a judge or required by a contract or used by a warring couple. But its uses should not be so limited. A mediator can solve issues before they cross over the threshold into something deeper and darker. There is no reason to wait for a hotspot to require medical attention when the timely application of moleskin would have prevented the blister from forming in the first place.
Interpersonal animosity is a common source of friction in an organization. There may be communication breakdowns, petty jealousies, power imbalances, or other roots of the problem, but the result is always the same: decreased efficiency and productivity. The energies that could be devoted to the common institutional good are instead wasted on individual concerns. Given time, this misdirection of focus can irreparably damage a relationship, a company, or an organization.
Enter the mediator. She or he is the guide that sets a proper skintrack, that knows how to navigate that tricky gully, that has been to the top so many times that the climb has become rote. Armed with this knowledge, the mediator can face the lingering conflicts with confidence, can gently confront the participants, can bring the issues into the light where they can be discussed and, ultimately, dispatched.
Bursting with newfound enthusiasm and vitality, the once cross parties can work together for the betterment of the team. Relieved of the distraction and psychic baggage of their now-forgotten dispute, they can then put their talents to the highest and best use. Processes once clogged with conflict will flow freely; projects once bogged down with the weight of acrimony will be completed in a timely and successful fashion.
Carrying only that which was necessary allowed us a swift ascent, in the process passing others that would have otherwise snaked our line. Standing on the edge of the crater with only powder in our view, we took a few breaths to appreciate the moment, and then dropped into an opening that eons before had spewed magma. They were euphoric turns that recalibrated our vision of what was possible in this life.