'A lot of anxiety since the pandemic' – meet the mediator settling north London disputes

Shelley-Anne Salisbury

Shelley-Anne Salisbury - Credit: 1000words.co.za

The extent of the social strain caused by the pandemic and lockdowns is perhaps not yet known, but a north London mediator say she has seen a rise in disputes.

Shelley-Anne Salisbury role consists of “untangling and unpicking a really knotty situation”, whether it be business or personal matters, or disagreements between neighbours or in the workplace.

She said: “We are facilitators. We don’t make decisions, we don’t force ideas, we don’t make them do anything they don’t want to do. We slowly work out, with them, the best option.”

Shelley-Anne, who lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb and has a podcast on mediation, says her philosophy is to understand what is really going on behind the problems her clients present.

“Whatever [they say] it is, you can be 99% sure it's not really about that," she said. "It's the tip of the iceberg.”

People who approach her are often considering going to court, but she said if you go down that route "you never get your voice heard" as it becomes a legal process.

“Mediation is also a lot cheaper,” she added.

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As in most areas, the business of resolving conflicts has changed since the pandemic.

“Cases have increased," said Shelley-Anne. "People are at home and thinking about things in a different way. There's a lot more anxiety. Last year I was helping a family who were really stuck, because the mother and father had decided to part, and then lockdown happened. There was a lot of animosity and there were kids involved. They were living in a small flat. That was very tricky.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Zoom sessions have done wonders for her profession.

“Online has proved to be brilliant," she said. "It's all set up for neutrality. Nobody has to go anywhere they feel uncomfortable. We’re all sitting in our own homes.”

The anxiety that can come from leaving the house and meeting in person is sidestepped, and if tensions arise people can be moved into Zoom breakout rooms.

Shelley-Anne Salisbury

Shelley-Anne Salisbury - Credit: 1000words.co.za

Shelley-Anne  became an accredited mediator in 2019. But in a varied career she has worked as a lawyer, a lecturer, a charitable board adviser, a small newspaper editor and a commercial consultant. She has created a user-friendly claw hair clip, which she sold on the QVC shopping channel, and even finds time to write fiction. 

She said these jobs have given her “a unique insight into conflict resolution from all angles”.

Sometimes the people she works with are high profile and “used to getting their own way”, but she said: “You just have to deal with them as the human being they are.”

Disputes requiring mediation can come in many forms. An example might be a divorcing couple who both want custody of a pet.

"That is a source of conflict, and what I have to do is work out what the best situation is for for the animal," said Shelley-Anne. "I'm not an animal specialist, but I will try and find out, while mediating, what would I think would be the best solution and what would make the best sense from the parties' situations - one might be a full in full time work, one might have an allergy. 

"You've got lots of different scenarios and they use the pet as ammunition. It's like a 'weaponising' situation.

"Also, the pet will often represent the real thing that they argue about, which is their breakdown in their own relationship."

She said children can get caught in disputes in the same way, but pets don't have the same legal protections.

Whatever the dispute, people find that having it hanging over them can affect their health and make them unable to function properly.

But Shelley-Anne said: “When you show them a way of resolving it, it comes from them. They’re the ones that are going to resolve it, but you’re showing them how they can. When they do resolve it the release is palpable. You can almost see their shoulders relaxing. 

“It doesn’t always work, but it can shift their perception. You might not have resolved the dispute but then when they think about what you said, they start to change a bit. Then eventually they work towards a resolution at a later stage.”

To contact Shelley-Anne Salisbury, email themediationpod@gmail.com or more details and the podcast can be found at www.themediationpod.net