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  • Writer's pictureCooper Shattuck

Going to the Balcony: Keeping Perspective in Complex Mediation

Imagine a room with a stunning view—a setting that everyone might appreciate, especially during a complex mediation. Yet, often during these sessions, everyone involved—parties, lawyers, and even the mediator—can develop a kind of tunnel vision. It’s most likely to set in mid-afternoon after hours of intense discussion, where focus narrows and the broader picture fades away. Emotions start to bubble up, and positions can become entrenched. What once seemed like a light at the end of the tunnel now feels like an oncoming train. When you reach this point, it might be time to "go to the balcony" -- not to jump off, but to gain perspective.

graphic depiction of balcony

In my experience as a mediator specializing in complex cases, this stage is almost inevitable. It's a critical juncture where the parties are within reach of their goals, yet it seems like there's no common ground left to find—a settlement appears more daunting than anticipated. This phase is where effective mediation can truly demonstrate its value, and where the real, deep, difficult negotiations take place. This is the point at which perspective in complex mediation is most valuable.

However, when many mediations falter here, they are halted. The parties, and even the mediator, simply give up. Those of us who mediate regularly understand this phase well and prepare for it. With patience and persistence, we help find a path forward where potential resolutions can be more fully explored.

One effective strategy to help parties navigate this challenging stage is the concept of "going to the balcony."

This can be a literal or metaphorical step back—a deliberate pause to shift perspective. Participants are encouraged to step away from the immediate pressures of negotiation, review the progress already made, and revisit the initial reasons for seeking a compromise and the objectives set at the beginning. It’s a moment to reassess goals, reconsider the motivations behind them, and breathe before continuing. This break from the negotiation table allows everyone to move out of the detail-heavy "weeds" and return to the broader, strategic view, possibly bringing new, more reasonable solutions into focus that seemed unattainable before.

As a mediator, it's crucial to anticipate when a session is approaching this point of fatigue and to guide the parties through this perspective-refreshing pause. Providing a literal or figurative space to breathe can transform what feels like a deadlock into a productive pathway forward. Encouraging a temporary retreat to the balcony shouldn’t be seen as a sign of surrender, but rather as an opportunity to regroup and refocus. Such pauses can be pivotal, turning a seemingly insurmountable impasse into a constructive step towards agreement.

Remember, using the balcony effectively means more than just taking a break—it's about making strategic use of this time to gain insights that propel the mediation forward. So, when the tunnel vision sets in, don’t hesitate to suggest a balcony moment. It could be the key to finding a path through a complex negotiation and reaching a successful resolution.


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