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Hockey fans know that having the home ice advantage is important. Statistically, home teams tend to perform better than the away teams. When we're in trouble, the principal doesn't come see us on the playground, we go to the principal's office. The home court advantage (or corner office advantage ) is not physical, it's psychological, and it can work against you. In resolving conflict, it is important that a neutral place is chosen for meeting.

When one party feels, or is made to feel, threatened or stifled, it can make a bad situation even worse because people do not share information well when they feel threatened.

Say you are in the midst of a conflict with your boss or even another coworker. When you are "invited" into the boss's office to discuss the situation, it can feel just like you were called to the principal's office. It feels authoritarian, as if you will have to defend yourself and accept some sort of punishment. The physical environment does not put you on an equal footing, and therefore, you could assume that an outcome may not be fair either. In some cases, this home court advantage is quite deliberate, intended to intimidate the other party, but it can be a barrier that prevents optimal solutions.

Whether or not it is intentional, it can be difficult to speak freely - or even listen to each other. A good mediator is invaluable because they can:
  • Choose a safe, neutral environment. Ideally, this location should be away from the scene of the conflict. It should have no physical or emotional ties for one party or the other. A hotel conference room, for instance, is often an ideal meeting place.
  • Acknowledge the importance of emotions. Everyone has them, even if we don't like to admit it. A mediator has to know how to make each party feel emotionally validated and free to voice their opinions. Again, a neutral environment facilitates this best.
  • Ensure that discussions are confidential and information disclosed can not be later "used against" someone later.  A neutral meeting location is an important element of making confidentiality a reality.
  • Ensure negotiations are voluntary. Mediation should not feel like punishment. Proper mediation protocol requires both sides have the freedom to discontinue proceedings at any time. It is a lot easier to walk away from a hotel conference room than your boss's office - but it can also be a lot easier to stay.

The importance of a neutral location cannot be overstated; this facilitates a dialogue instead of a monologue, and ideally, each party is able to communicate freely without fear of reprisal. Mediation is designed to allow both parties to regain some control while working towards a mutually acceptable agreement. For that to happen, there should not be a home team and an away team.

Contributed by John Curtis, Attorney and Conflict Coach


Larry Hart

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