Graham Boyack: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes – it’s the first step towards a deal

Graham Boyack, Director, Scottish Mediation
Graham Boyack, Director, Scottish Mediation
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Last week, Scotland ­hosted the prestigious International Academy of ­Mediators conference with ­mediators from more than 20 ­countries attending.

The event was an inspiration, ­giving an insight into how mediation can perform a central role as part of a country’s civil justice system. ­However, two events will dominate my memories of the week.

The first was a session in the ­chamber of the Scottish Parliament on the Saturday morning, where we were addressed by ­William Ury, author of Getting to Yes, a book which outlines how when parties’ interests are taken into account during a negotiation that a win-win agreement is the most likely outcome.

Ury argued that to truly understand the other parties’ interests, people had to put themselves in the right frame of mind and understand what it was like to be in the other person’s shoes.

He also called on listening skills to be an essential part of children’s education. His ­contribution was ­followed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who ­captured the mood of the occasion, outlining how interest-based ­negotiation was being used by the Scottish Government and how ­Scotland could play an international role in supporting peace building. The second event was a ­masterclass given by Ury, where he was able to reflect on the range of international conflicts he has helped ­mediate and the valuable lessons which can be applied.

With his vast experience, Ury was able to illustrate how things as ­simple as listening, taking a wider view of the possibilities and controlling your reactions can have a ­positive impact.

Perhaps most inspiring was his view that Scotland could be one of several world hubs to ­promote the adoption and development of the skills of peace-making, supporting other countries in resolving their conflicts.

Having the time to reflect, as I did last week, provided me with the opportunity to look at what we might achieve in Scotland.

The first area of opportunity that struck me was that mediation has a role in education. Scottish Mediation already engages with schools to train students how to mediate and resolve conflicts they face every day. We are working to figure out the best ways to integrate this into school life.

Delegates from India told me how students successfully resolving ­conflicts gained extra marks for their whole classes. The next step for me would therefore be to make the ­teaching of listening skills a core part of ­education from primary school to university and college. Such a step would surely pay dividends in the long run, giving the capacity for ­people to engage more constructively in conflict for better outcomes.

The second opportunity was to improve the choices available for ­parties in the justice system. Lord Briggs spoke of how mediation is being used in the English and Welsh courts and his vision that mediation will be the norm with an approach of case management for resolution.

The benefits include a quicker resolution of disputes, courts being able to effectively focus on cases where a ­ruling is required and, in many cases, a more affordable way of getting a ­resolution. Scotland’s next steps must surely include a wider inclusion of mediation as an option in the court rules and an encouragement to use it.

My final thought was prompted by discussion of the impact of the Scottish Government’s use of William Ury’s interest negotiating principles in Getting to Yes. What was described is not an easy option, but one which requires significant investment in training and the engagement with people involved to make it work.

Investment would pay dividends, not just in monetary terms, but by reaching better and more sustainable agreements. I sometimes think some of our current agreements ­simply postpone the conflict rather than addressing the underlying issues.

More critical is Ury’s point that by doing so we need also to factor in the interests of the wider ­public, who are sometimes not at the forefront of the minds of those involved, when they need to be.

If you would like to help Scottish Mediation Get to Yes, we’re looking for a new chair of our board and would be delighted to hear from you. Email me at

Graham Boyack, director, Scottish Mediation.