How Long Does Business Mediation Take?
Chris, We are in serious need of mediation. Our partnership is breaking down. My question is, how long does mediation take?
How Long Will Your Mediation Take to Reach Agreement?
I’m asked this question with every new inquiry about Partnership Mediation. It makes perfect sense to ask, but the answer is tricky. Let’s try to give some guidance on this difficult question.
The short answer is that the amount of time needed to work out an agreement is in the hands of the disputing partners. In theory, we could hop in a Zoom, talk a few minutes about options, and reach agreement in 10 minutes. That never happens because people call me when they get so far apart that it takes some time just to get a productive dialogue going. I always say that the sooner I get the call, the less tension, and the easier the process.
Depends on the Partnership Problems
Despite the time to resolution being up to the parties, realistically some problems are bigger and more complex than others. For example, if we’re talking about working through a decision to buy a piece of equipment, it might be possible to find an acceptable agreement in an hour. But, if we need to work out a Partnership separation through a buyout with a lot of money at stake, it could take a couple months of meeting once or twice a week. I’ve worked on very complex deals that took months to reach agreement.
If all parties are coming to the table ready to listen, rather than battle, the process will go a lot faster. Too often Partners show up ready to negotiate but not ready to hear what the other side is saying.
“The time we’ll need to work out your agreement will depend as much on you as it will on me.”
Chris Reich, Partnership Mediator
Come to Partnership Mediation Ready to LISTEN
Listen? Aren’t we supposed to negotiate?
You can call it negotiating, sure. But the most important part of negotiating is listening. I have watched people waste thousands of dollars because they didn’t hear something the other side was saying. In one case, in a small partnership buyout, while the parties were arguing over price, the departing partner said the he would take a lot less money if he could keep his company car. That was a huge opening for the other partner. I’m thinking, “give him the car and save yourself $15,000 in cash!” Instead, the reaction was anger, “Nothing is ever enough for you! I refuse. That’s ridiculous.” They started to argue so I stopped the meeting. I instructed them to give it some thought and come back ready to talk calmly. We met the next day. They buyer started first and said, “I just want this over with. Okay, you can keep the car too, but that’s it.” The deal was done. If the buying Partner had been paying attention, he could have saved several thousand dollars without an argument. LISTEN.
In another case, in the early stages of buyout talks, the buying partner offer over $100,000 for the other partner’s shares. The seller was ready for battled and sparked an argument about, “you’re always trying to screw me over. I expect a fair price. I won’t take less that $32,000!” Ugh. I’ve seen that happen a few times and it always pains me. LISTEN.
Shouldn’t You Worry About the Cost of Mediation?
A good mediator is looking out for you and is not there to ‘run the clock.’ I have had people get edgy about the time involved only to ultimately reach a deal that greatly benefits the business. Allow time to reduce the tension and get to a place where people are engaging rationally. You don’t want to drag out the process, but you also don’t want to rush. You can’t bake a cake in 5 minutes by cranking up the oven to 500 degrees. That only adds heat which leads to a burned cake.
How to Reduce the Cost of Partnership Mediation
Even though I prefer to allow people to express themselves without pushing them, there are ways to save time. I prefer that mediation start with where things are today and focus on where everybody wants to end up. Often, parties to mediation want to argue about things that happened months ago. Sure, giving me a little context can be helpful. Too often a lot of time goes to telling me all the bad things the other partner has done. That means the other partner has to explain and then tell me about the other’s foibles. It sets up a cycle of attack-defend. That wastes a lot of time. Don’t waste your money talking about every bad thing your partner has ever done. It’s not therapy. If we focus on where people want to end up, we’ll get there quicker. You can’t drive by looking only in the rear-view mirror. Look forward.
Best Money-Saving Tip
What’s the best way to save money on your mediation? Say nice things TO your partner. Sure, it helps to say nice things about your partner, but saying nice things to them is very powerful. You’ll see that is very disarming and tends to break down the barriers. Deals always come from that change in tone toward the positive.
I make my living by serving as a business partnership mediator. My goal is always to help reach agreement in the quickest possible time, but the time spent isn’t up to me.
Come to mediation ready to listen and to be fair and you’ll have an easy, smooth process. Come ready for battle and you could spend weeks in negotiation.
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