NEWS & VIEWS

What Ben Stokes innings in the third Ashes Test Match can teach a mediator

What Ben Stokes innings in the third Ashes Test Match can teach a mediator

As the justifiable superlatives are scattered in the headlines and unnecessary comparisons are made with former heroes there is also much a mediator can learn from re-watching that magnificent innings. Not that an excuse is needed, but why not add some training points to your leisure activity?

It is not uncommon for a mediator to enter the room and be told by one of the parties that this exercise will all be a waste of time and there is no way a settlement could be reached with that intransigent so-and-so on the other side. Much in the same way, when the bespectacled number eleven came out to the wicket with 73 runs to score, the bookies’ odds and the opinion of all the experts was that there was no realistic prospect of success Yet none of that attitude was reflected by the batsman. He ignored the odds. Nothing in the way he batted conveyed the sense of defeat being probable He kept faith in achieving his objective and so too must a mediator. From the outset the objective of reaching a deal has to be made plain and radiated to the audience and eventually it can influence even those most opposed. Nothing in the demeanour of a mediator or in the reaction to what is said can be allowed to communicate that a settlement is not possible.

At the outset Stokes acclimatised himself to the environment. When he had to provide stolid support that is what he did, when he had to accelerate the tempo that is what he did. He first entirely familiarised himself with the bowling and how the wicket was playing Just as any sensible mediator will take time to get to know the participants and do what is possible to create a trusting environment. Obviously this is not what our batsman expected from his Australian opponents but taking their measure is what he did and what any mediator has to do as well. That assessment has to precede proper analysis of how to reach the objective.

Once that assessment has been completed a clear breakdown of how the objective of settlement can be achieved has to be made. Stokes decided that being there was sufficient at the outset, he later adapted his stroke play to accommodate a robust colleague in Bairstow and then became both aggressive with his opponents and protective of a colleague as he ‘nursed the tail’. So a mediator has to assess what issues are the principal problems and be creative in the manner in which they can be solved.

Another similarity is consciousness of how time can be an ally. Stokes knew the longer he kept the fast bowlers toiling the easier his task was going to be to defeat their objective A mediator who attempts to rush to a settlement and manages time badly is likely to have his middle stump removed followed by a walk to the pavilion. The cynical thought that in any day’s mediation a solution is unlikely until after tea time has some justification in practice and the trick is often to keep the dialogue from collapsing until the time is right By the time there was one run to score the Australian bowler bowled probably his worst delivery of the day to make the winning hit possible.

Two final thoughts to add to the comparisons. First any mediation can include a mediator making a mistake. Saying the wrong thing, allowing too positive an opinion to emerge at the wrong time, managing inadvertently to annoy a participant The lesson here is that most mistakes can be overcome if you do not allow yourself to be overcome by the error. Stokes ran-out Jos Butler, whom he could have expected to provide robust support,yet did not allow that to affect his performance, a great effort of will so too a mediator has to overcome any error without spending time on critical personal reflection (that can come later) that would impede progress to a settlement Secondly no mediation should be conducted for the purpose of the self-satisfaction of the mediator or directed at a solution he or she thinks preferable Just as Stokes ignored the personal milestones in his innings so too must a mediator keep in mind the best interests of the parties. And that the best solution is one the parties are willing to agree.