A Mediator’s Heart and Head

I’ve been riding horses my whole life. Over the years, some of those horses have tried to unseat me by what’s referred to as “bucking.” Most people know what this looks like, but few know what it feels like.

Joy says that, just like riding a bucking horse, the best way to handle a contentious mediation situation is to “relax, lean back and ride it out.”

It’s frightening to be on top of a huge animal who wants you off their back. A person may get lucky and ride one or two bucks, but it takes some serious self-talk to ride a bucking horse for a long time. The secret to riding out the buck is to not give up on yourself. The biggest threat to your body when a horse is in fight/flight mode is your own brain in fight/flight mode. More on that later.

I recently mediated a case where the consumer failed to pay an invoice for work on a well on a property that was on the market. The unpaid invoice resulted in a lien on her property.


The owner of the property was going through a divorce, and numerous email and phone conversations took place between the service provider, the owner, her soon-to-be-ex-husband, and the realtor. From start to finish, the service provider endeavored to “keep the homeowner in water,” as they say. After the camera inspection, the service provider suggested a new well. The homeowner rejected the suggestion and sought temporary fixes. In the end, the homeowner became convinced that the property needed a new well. She was now looking at a $30,000 installation and was unhappy about having to pay for temporary fixes she had previously authorized. She accused the service provider of acting in bad faith, claiming that he should have recommended a new well from the start and he knew she would be throwing money “down a well,” so to speak.


The paper trail clearly shows the homeowner’s understanding of the diagnostic progression and authorization of the temporary repairs, the contractor’s good faith efforts, and the warning about the lien for non-payment.


For Joy, her mediation client isn’t the company or the customer—it’s the agreement itself.

In attempting to negotiate an amicable settlement, the homeowner was repetitive, made accusations that were refuted by the written record, asked for credits she had already been given and generally stayed stuck on a narrative that the contractor acted in bad faith. At the close of every conversation, I’d ask her how she’d like to proceed. She never did say what she wanted. Like a bucking horse, there was a lot of fury and no sense of direction. At one point, she wanted to fire me and speak to my boss because she wasn’t getting what she wanted. Since there’s nobody above me to whom I could refer her, I politely explained that I was committed to helping her reach an agreement, so she was either stuck with me or she could close out her request for mediation.


These are the mediations that remind me of riding a bucking horse. In my 14 years of mediation, there have been a handful of moments where I’ve worried I was on the verge of losing control of the situation. But that familiar resolve kicks in that says, “Relax, lean back and ride it out.” For some parties, maybe the release of pent-up energy is a necessary phase of accepting a peaceful agreement. In this case, I came to understand that the customer really wanted a discount, but she may have thought she needed to prove that the other side broke laws, acted in bad faith or generally owed it to her. It was my job to help the parties get to “Yes.”


My client is the agreement, and the agreement wasn’t being served until the homeowner understood that she wasn’t going to convince the other side that they’re horrible people. At that point, I offered her an alternative way of looking at the situation. I wondered what might happen if she simply asked for a discount without any accompanying accusations or blame—just a simple ask. Without any objections, she did ask. The service provider found her requested discount very reasonable and they reached an agreement.


If you find yourself in mediation, here are a few things to know:


  1. Mediation is a process of party self-determination. You and the other party co-craft the agreement.
  2. The mediator is working in service to the agreement and is not an advocate for either side.
  3. Mediation through the Diamond Certified Resource is upon customer request. When the customer initiates, they’re more invested in working the process.

Joy Lanzaro, Director of Mediation and Compliance



For more information on the Diamond Certified Mediation Process, feel free to contact us at [email protected].