This week was a funny one in the Small Claims world. I was all set to observe another mediation but then the parties reached an impasse over a procedural detail before we could even get started. It seemed like a real pity that they couldn’t come to agreement on that small issue but perhaps that was a sign of how things would have worked out in the end anyway. When the mediator ran downstairs to double-check that we were done I found myself alone in the room with the parties. It was a terribly uncomfortable silence so I tried to break it with some small talk. In doing so I was VERY careful to not do anything that would appear to bias me to either party. I was aware that although the mediation appeared to be over, there was still a slim chance that we would go on. Maintaining impartiality was still important so I started by talking about the weather. I asked the parties if they had any plans for the weekend. This evolved into a conversation about the Strawberry Festival in Lebanon, a little bit of roller derby, and more. Both parties were friendly and chatty towards me but I quickly worried that if I asked too much about them, I might look overly interested in one over the other. In contrast, if I talked more about myself I might sound self-absorbed, or worse, I might accidentally reveal something that one party or the other would respond positively or negatively too. Lesson learned….small talk is OK but it’s also probably wise to develop a plan of vetted neutral topics (if that’s possible) and to get comfortable with silence.
To add to the fun, the court held a fire drill today. I’m sure it really messed up the other mediation but I was grateful as it got me out of the small talk mess I had started and I got to enjoy some sunshine on a beautiful day.