Tara Ollapally Logo

By Tara Ollapally, April 6, 2020

Understanding COVID through the Lens of Mediation

As I look out of the window of my home office and take in the stillness of a complete lockdown that has been imposed in the wake of COVID-19, I am struck by the sense of balance that exists amidst the chaos and panic that can also overwhelm me.

Of course, I am incredibly privileged to be protected and provided for and am not placed in harm’s way as compared to millions of my fellow Indians who are unsure where their next meal will come from as a result of this lockdown. That said, as a mediator, I aspire for this centeredness – a state that takes much effort to reach – and am amazed that over the past few days, amidst the lockdown, I have been able to find that balance more than usual.

As discussions, information, news updates on COVD-19 buzz around me all day long, I can’t help dwell on the current situation from a mediators perspective. I find myself trying to understand this situation through the lens of mediation and wanted to share a few of my dominant thoughts:

  1. The Win/Win Game: As I engage with my clients as a mediator, my efforts lie in helping them change their game from win/lose to win/win. I am struck during these times how important it is for us to cooperate as a global family in order to win this ‘war’. Communities are engaging with each other collaboratively, the global scientific community is working collaboratively like never before, focused on developing a vaccine for the coronavirus – there is an understanding that in order for me to win, you have to win; in order for me to be safe, you have to stay safe. Empathy, respect, collaboration are key tenets to overcoming these tough times. Once the health crisis subsides and we reel with the economic and legal fall outs of a lockdown, a competitive, winner takes all approach will be disastrous. Bertrand Russell couldn’t have been more right when he said “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation”
  2. Going to the Balcony: As the update on the number of new infections streams in every hour, I find myself sometimes gripped in fear. While fear, I have come to realise, can be a healthy emotion – it drives us to physical distance, wash our hands, be very alert to what we touch etc – it can also overpower very quickly and drive one to irrationality. I find myself trying to ‘Go to the Balcony’, to gain the perspective that I need to move forward. A term coined by William Ury, the legend behind Getting to Yes, Going to the Balcony is a metaphor for a mental and emotional place of perspective, calm and self-control where we can stay focused on real interests and keep sight on the real prize. As mediators, we help our clients gain a balcony view. To be effective dispute resolvers, it is equally critical for us as neutral third parties, to not get sucked into the dispute and maintain the balcony view. When emotions get high, staying on the balcony can get extremely challenging – it is only through a process of self-inquiry, self-understanding and frequent practice that one can Go the Balcony. Living through COVID-19 has surely provided ample opportunity to Go to the Balcony and truly understand and manage the emotions that grip at this time.
  3. Reframe the Picture: In the wake of WWII and the atomic bomb, Albert Einstein posed a very important question to humanity – “Is the universe a friendly place” – a very basic question that we all must answer for ourselves. Those who see the universe as fundamentally hostile will naturally see the other as an ‘opponent’. Those to whom the universe is friendly will most likely treat the other as a ‘partner’. As a mediator, in order to get my parties to move from opponents to collaborators, reframing is critical. My ability to help the parties give a different interpretation or meaning to their situation goes a long way in them believing that the universe is essentially a friendly place and move their frame of the other side from opponent to partner.

The dominant frame in these times is fear, uncertainty, sickness and death – that said there have been moments when we have been able to reframe the situation and see this time as an opportunity to pause, reflect, spend time with family, pursue a hobby or appreciate the beauty of nature. Whilst this has been a terrifying experience for millions it also presents the hope, the possibility, that from this suffering that is so deep and wide there will be a collective awakening – an awakening that helps us prioritize what is really important and reframe our lives through that lens.

Reset Post COVID

There is no doubt that in a post COVID world when individuals and businesses work to rebuild, a collaborative mindset is critical for our community to heal and move forward. As contracts get re-negotiated, employees terminated, payments not met, deadlines not respected, a dispute resolution process that addresses underlying interests i.e fears, concerns, goals, hopes; that does not judge but understands perspectives; and finds creative, mutually acceptable solutions will allow us to move from the chaos and trauma of this situation in a holistic and sustainable way. 

“In the midst of every crisis lies a great opportunity” said Albert Einstein. As our families, businesses, communities, cities, nations and planet reel under the stress of the COVID-19 crisis may we as individuals find the opportunity to heal, grow and collectively win through it. This time of lockdown gives us the chance to reflect on how we would manage and live our lives in a post COVID world. Could the disputes that might come our way be opportunities to build partnerships, understand priorities and goals, reject noise and posturing? Could we use this time to truly plan our dispute management strategy such that we could collaboratively find win/win outcomes in a quick and cost effective way that supports growth for all and more importantly will allow us as a global community to heal and move forward constructively?

Other articles