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Are you ready to let go?

By Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan, an experienced VSBC mediator who is an accredited specialist in mediation, has written an interesting blog exploring letting go…

On a recent holiday I read a book that hit home for me as a mediator. The story goes that a monk was recounting how villagers trap monkeys. The villagers chain a vase with a narrow neck and a bulbous bottom to the base of a tree and fill the bottom with nuts. During the night, a monkey climbs in and slips its hand down the neck of the vase to grab some nuts. The expanded fist holding the nuts is now too big to get back up the narrow neck and the monkey is trapped. In the morning the villagers arrive to take the monkey. The point of the story, as the monk observed, is that to be free, all it had to do was to let go.

One of the hardest things for people to do during a commercial dispute is to separate the ‘the people’ from ‘the problem’ and focus on what the best outcome for all may be. Rather, they get caught up with pent up anger and personal grudges. A function of the mediator is to guide the participants to an outcome themselves – which inevitably involves compromise and ‘letting go’.

Most commercial disputes centre on someone paying (usually more than they want) and someone receiving (usually less than they are willing to receive). To get the ball rolling I have found some success by asking a party what the most is they would be prepared to offer if they knew the other party would accept that amount. However small, that provides something for the mediator and the other party to work with. Often it’s just drawing out of parties not just what they want but what they need. As the Rolling Stones sang “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”

Trying is often frustrated by face saving, inflexibility, fear or ego. The challenge is to use creative thinking to break an impasse and ‘let go’ when ‘stuck’ to consider workable solutions.

Whether we can get our fist out of the neck of the proverbial jar, it seems, depends ultimately on the quantity of nuts we need in our hand.

This blog was drawn from Jonathan Kaplan’s article originally published in the September 2019 edition of the Law Institute Journal.