Four men grew up together and started a business because they enjoyed hanging out. Soon the product started making money and they created a crude profit share arrangement and that sufficed. Then they began creating ancillary businesses tied into the original and those started making money too. So much unexpected money that one of them began to inwardly chafe at what he considered a financial arrangement that was too constricting for him. After all, he had the vision and had created the products the others supported but he kept silent because he loved his friends so much.

The dam finally burst when he created his own independent product that he did not want to connect to the original business arrangement he’d had for 15 years with his friends. They grumbled about him to each other and finally, the business manager spoke to this gentleman and asked him why he had done it. The creative explained that he felt he wasn’t being compensated enough for all the hours and work that he had contributed to the business. The acrimony got so intense they decided to call in a mediator.

The mediator conducted consultations with the two men, and they arranged a time for mediation to take place. On the day, the creative was sullen and withdrawn while the businessman’s mood was light and airy. It dissolved quickly into an ugly, contentious, loud, non-productive session that could have continued in the same manner if the mediator had not created breakout, or caucus, rooms into which he placed the creative, and afterward, the businessman. The mediator then began a long period of shuttling back and forth between the two and it was while he was talking to the creative that he began to suspect the man’s rage was not directed at his associates but rather came from some inner whirlpool of intense self-loathing. The mediator asked him whether he wasn’t at all angry at himself for allowing the financial arrangement to carry on for too long. The mediator knew immediately that he had struck a chord. The man’s demeanor adjusted, and he seemed relieved as he confirmed the mediator’s suggestion.

It took another hour, but an agreement was created from the ashes of their old business arrangement that managed to preserve their friendship while separating their finances into a more coherent, cohesive, and long-lasting contract.

Sometimes the anger in mediation does come from an external conflict but just as often the conflict comes from within. In mediation, being sensitive enough to discern the difference can be the ultimate arbiter of success or failure, agreement, or none.