Let’s talk about how to mediate a dispute. I’m sure you know about the process of mediation which includes listening, learning, and yes, loving in order to reach a compromise and settle a disagreement. You don’t think so? No loving? I will explain, but first let’s set the scene of your dilemma.
You are chairman of the board for a condominium owners association. During a recent general meeting of the Board, where all owners were welcome but few attended, one owner had a meltdown involving yelling and crying on his part. It seems he was overwrought about personal health issues. Further, he blamed the Board for exacerbating his health problems because he was being penalized for “breaking” a board rule. That rule required him to be 50 feet from the condominium structure when he smoked, but he was repeatedly smoking on his own patio which, of course, was part of the structure. The Board sent him a fine notice each time he was seen smoking by other owners, and he refused to pay the fines, saying he was physically unable to go to a point 50 feet from the building. The Board notified him that a lien would be placed on his condominium by the end of the month. He attended the meeting to appeal his case to other owners. During his appeal, he publically threatened to bring suit against the Board and all other owners for harassment and discrimination, claiming his physical disabilities exempted him from the rule.
Now we come to you, dear Chairman of the Board. My understanding is that the overwrought Smoker was particularly upset with you because he felt you had been unresponsive to his appeals. During the Board meeting you politely allowed him to air his complaint all the way through his meltdown, including numerous attacks against you personally. Kudos to you for your courtesy, but courtesy is not enough.
This incendiary situation must be defused pronto. Here is my advice:
1. Meet with Smoker, who, you say, is a new owner in your complex. Bring two other Board members and one non-Board owner with you. You need several sets of ears and eyes.
2. State that you want to find a compromise resolution.
3. Invite Smoker to talk first. Listen carefully and learn as much as you can from him while he is calm. Let him know that you hear what he is saying and you sympathize with his health issues.
4. Next it is your turn. Clearly explain that the rule exists for the health and safety of all owners. State that he was informed, in writing, of the rule before he purchased the condominium. Regarding legal action, my guess is he has no leg to stand on. By the act of receiving the official condo rules before purchase, he was fully informed about the smoking rule. It was no surprise.
5. Continue the conversation, back and forth. Does he get out of the condo by car? Could he drive 50 feet from the building and then smoke in his car? Does he have a care-giver? Could the care-giver drive him or walk with him 50 feet from the building? Would he like to stop smoking? Suggest that he seek medical advice to aid in such a campaign.
6. Your offer to compromise might be: Once he agrees to abide by the rule and not to bring suit, you will agree to remove all pending fines.
7. To be safe, draw up a simple statement of the compromise and both you and he sign and date it. The statement might include: (a) when he smokes on the property he will smoke 50 feet from the condo structure, (b) he agrees not to bring suit, and (c) the Board agrees to rescind all fines issued to date.
The process I’ve outlined is called mediation. You do not need to bring in an outside mediator to accomplish the task which is to achieve a compromise. You can engage in mediation with Smoker by using the three harmony actions: listen, learn, and love. Listen to each other, learn from each other, and love each other without question. Love, you say? Yes, love. You don’t have to like someone to love him. Just send love to Smoker, silently, in your heart. Sounds like he could use some love in his life. By sending love, you will calm yourself, calm him, and help achieve a compromise. You may even grow to like him.
Good luck, and keep in touch.
Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: To mediate a dispute you must listen, learn, and love.