dispute resolution service

BATTLING BROTHERS A CASE STUDY

It’s always good to know what you might be getting into, when you start a mediation, so let’s take a look at a simple case study and see how it might run.

The scene: 

Two brothers have each inherited their father’s farm. One of them has trained in business studies and has had a successful career with a national supermarket chain. The other went to agricultural college, learned his trade and has run the farm with his father for the last 10 years.

Dad has died (Mum died some years ago) and the boys have fallen out. The farmer wants to keep going as he always has, from time to time, installing more up to date practices but never going for intensive farming nor developments which would change the basic nature of the farm.

The businessman wants to look at new directions. Opening a farm shop selling produce from the farm and buying in other products, intended to attract the middle to upper class customer, looking for lower air miles, quality local produce but who are happy to sacrifice their morals for a bottle of reasonably priced champagne.

The boys haven’t fallen out but their positions are entrenched and the only alternative is selling the farm. Neither want that because it has always been their home and has produced a steady and reasonable income for Dad and his farmer son.

There is an unused barn, which can be used to house a good-sized farm shop. There are many local farmers who would be happy to supply their produce and, with his background, the businessman has a book full of contacts, who would be happy to provide produce to the shop.

The farmer has organic certification and does not want to lose that. The businessman is not tied to organic produce and does see that it can provide a marketing advantage.

The action

As a mediator, I introduce myself and explain the process. I ask each of the brothers to introduce themselves and give a brief statement (without interruption) as to how they see things.

I then explain how our secrecy rules work. Essentially, when I talk to one of them, that conversation is secret, unless that brother wants me to release part of it. I also make the point that the whole process is confidential and no part of it can be used in the Court action.

I’ll also explain that I’m not here to act as a judge, my role is not to bat for either side, rather it is to see, if there is any room for a settlement.

We then break out for individual conversations. I’ll decide who to talk with first and we use a different room for that discussion, after from the other brother. I will spend time with each of them, on their own, getting to know them, what their concerns are, and looking at possible compromises. Most of the time, I’ll ask the brothers to lead but, occasionally, I’ll make a suggestion.

As the conversations progress, it will become clear if the process is going to work, most of the time, it does. If I feel that there is no chance of a meeting of minds, I’ll stop the meeting. But that doesn’t happen very often.

My aim, as mediator, is to listen, provide suggestions and hints. At all times, I’m acting under the rules set by each party, so if they don’t want me to mention something, I don’t. I will always get their permission before I put any of their points to the other side.

Eventually, and eventually can be an hour or several hours, we will get to the point of an agreement (if there is one to be done) and, at that point, I’ll get both parties back together, we’ll firm up the terms and I’ll write a short agreement, which will then commit both parties. Once it’s signed my job is done.

In this case

By talking to both sides it becomes clear that they’re both into making a profit and that both want to keep the farm. 

The main difference lies in organic local supplied products against non-organic products supplied from larger manufacturers.

Businessman brother has done his work and has viewed several farm shops, nearby. They are all low-key, low-cost shops selling local products. They, clearly, make low profits. He has also looked at larger shops, which carry larger and more diverse ranges and which, clearly, have a good footfall and bigger turnover.

Farmer brother could live with that, if the focus was on low air-miles and organics. In the course of the conversations, he makes it clear that he will move on 100% organic/local but not too far.

Each brother agrees that I can exchange their respective positions with the other and it becomes clear, quite quickly, that the spat was a typical argument between brothers, and that the common ground they have is much closer than their differences.

Neither wants to do the other’s job and each feels that the other is competent. 

Finally, an agreement is struck, where the product lines are agreed, there will be 80% organic/local and the rest can be high quality, bought in. We get back into the room and sign the agreement. The boys leave, as friends.

That may all sound like fiction but, in fact, it happens many times that people who had fallen out, become friends again, when they can open their ears to what is actually being said – which is the mediator’s job.

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