The Crown Season 5
Don Schapira
Founder & Lead Mediator, National

Mediation: Good Enough for Royalty, Good Enough for You

In exploring, and introducing, the concept of mediation to those unfamiliar, I would suggest logging on to Netflix and taking a look at the acclaimed Drama, The Crown, fifth season’s penultimate episode, titled ‘Couple 31’. Here, the exploration and understanding of the nuance mediation offers to those during divorce, is effectively managed.   

A few minutes into this installment, after being made aware that the Prince and Princess of Wales have each hired lawyers, ‘not known for their ability to give ground and make peace’, the Queen requests that John Major, the British Prime Minister, take on the difficult task of mediating the royal divorce.  After all, he was successful in negotiating the decades-long Northern Ireland Conflict, so this dispute should be only slightly more difficult.

In her request to Major, the Queen believes that as a trusted third party, he could act as ‘an intermediary…an umpire.’ Honored by the request, he agrees to serve as the mediator.

The term Umpire is quite acute for the role we play as mediators, and well navigated in the episode. As so-called umpires, we do not make up the rules of engagement, we simply arbitrate their enforcement between the parties involved. 

In the matter of divorce mediation, the agreed upon rules is to empower each party to self-determination regarding the fair distribution and divisions of assets, as well as a parenting plan that serves in the best interests of the children.  But even more so, is to bring about the emotional closure many long for and ensure the very best opportunity for each party to secure their very own Fresh Start.  

These rules are the cornerstones of every mediation regardless of amicability, complexity, or class.  We use specific tools to accomplish these tasks focusing on three main umbrellas of complexity: Emotional, Financial, and Family.  The mediator works with the client to establish a process, and timelines to achieve their goals. 

While much of the nuance of the complete mediation process, may be lost in the aforementioned episode, the tools we use are deftly explored throughout. 

During their first meeting, and after being made aware of Princess Di’s initial exorbitant offer, an emotionally charged Prince Charles asks Major, ‘How can anyone expect my side to behave civilly when her side has already made such an open declaration of war?’’

This is a thought shared by many of our own clients in the midst of a high-conflict separation.  The fears of continued and open hostility, derived from past comments, whether private or public, drive our escalatory actions.    

This is where a mediator is at their most effective.  In answering the Prince’s fear, Major chooses to reframe the initial offer and plants a seed that germinates throughout the episode of a possible future with no more hostility.

Perhaps the princess,” he begins, “in seeking such a large initial sum, is simply trying to ensure future independence.  Rather than allowing a situation to develop in which she is beholden to you for a longer period of time. In some ways, her attempt to avoid a financial settlement with no fixed term could be seen as a way of liberating you both.”

 

‘there are often two languages being spoken. The language of the demands being made and what’s actually being said underneath’

The Crown Season 5

While this initially does not sit well with the Prince of Wales, resulting in the rumination that her initial proposal was ‘designed to ruin’ him, Major continues “I am simply encouraging you to be more flexible in your thinking toward the princess and what her motivations might be.”

Notice how the request is for flexibility in opinion of the person and their motivations, rather than acquiescence to the offer itself.  This shift is vital during the mediation process.  Once both parties feel, and understand, that the other side is not an adversary, but rather a potential partner in a realized future agreement, the very real possibility of exploring amicable options can begin. 

As it is only the first meeting, Charles responds with a defensive ‘when she is flexible, I shall be flexible. This highlights that we often blame the other party for cause and effect of negative outcomes, rather than establish our own authority, even accountability, towards positive outcomes. At this stage, we need to also identify the positive steps and shift in ideology from “I can’t because they won’t” to “I will if they will.”  Obviously, a lot of work remains, yet the process is off to an encouraging first step. 

The next meeting, of course, is with Diana, where her initial and equally suspicious remark on flexilbility is: “Don’t talk to me about flexibility. He’s the most inflexible man I know.” Instead of addressing a binary proposition, i.e. whether someone is flexible or not, the mediator instead chooses to press on and prove that positive steps have already been taken.

Well, after a lengthy and, I think, productive discussion, I can confirm that His Royal Highness is now prepared to discuss a sizeable payment…”.  There is much to dissect in this opening remark from the mediator. It shows that a position has softened, after much hard work, and flexibility attained.  It is not in the mediator’s interest, nor would it be effective to suggest, that Diana’s assertion was false. 

In changing the perceptions of both parties, it is integral that the mediator continues to show that steps, and much work, yet remain towards meeting underlying needs and that it does require both parties commitment, and positive actions, to achieve agreement.

He continues, “…with just one stipulation. That you refrain forever from speaking in public about the marriage or the monarchy in any way that could be seen as damaging.”  This expression of give and take and understanding that each person brings their own needs to be addressed at the table, draws a sly, knowing grin from Diana, and a vocal rebuke, “If he’s gonna stuff my mouth with gold and hope I gag, that sum had better have eight figures and start with a three.”

Each time a mediator brings to the forefront a potentially triggering aspect to the table there is the opportunity for an emotional escalation. At this point, some might posit that future agreement seems impossible. This is where Major, as the mediator, again utilizes the skills of a seasoned interest-based communicator to shift the discussion from positions to needs.

In any negotiation, it’s worth remembering there are often two languages being spoken. The language of the demands being made and what’s actually being said underneath. I prefer to try and ignore the former and speak the latter.

This interests Diana, and after a brief pause, Major continues with this reframe ‘The prince’s team is saying… “We want you to be happy. We want you to be secure. We just want to keep things quiet and private. And… dignified.”

As is explored in the remainder of the episode, the underlying interests of both parties for the cessation of hostilities and an amicable path forward were met, due to the diligent efforts of a mediator reframing, understanding, and exploring with their clients, as opposed to escalating and creating win/lose propositions. 

It is equally important to note the simple title of the episode – Couple 31.  In the eyes of mediation, there is nothing unique about someone’s status.  Rather, it is about creating understanding through proper communication, regardless of if you’re a royal. 

In changing the perceptions of both parties, it is integral that the mediator continues to show that steps, and much work, yet remain towards meeting underlying needs and that it does require both parties commitment, and positive actions, to achieve agreement.

We offer multiple ways to connect for a free consultation, either alone for 15 minutes, or with you and your partner for 1 hour.

We have witnessed the positive impact of our process in changing the way couples and families move through divorce. We want to do the very same for you.


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