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  • Writer's picturesarah bays

When the "Penny Drops" in Mediation

Unveiling the 'Penny Drop': Navigating Transformative Moments in Mediation and Restorative Justice



Sign You've Been Looking For


As someone deeply immersed in the roles of a mediator and restorative justice facilitator, I am consistently fascinated by the pivotal moments in these processes, moments I often refer to as the “Penny Drop.”  This moment marks the revelation of an underlying issue that has fuelled the conflict, bringing about a transformative shift in perspectives.


Conflicts rarely arise solely from the apparent issues at hand.  What may seem like a straightforward disagreement over a specific issue often conceals deeper, more intricate roots. The parties are so often locked in a battle of perspectives, exacerbated by inaccurate assumptions and misinterpretations. 


In almost every mediation scenario, there comes the critical moment when these misconceptions surface. Just like the dropping of a penny, this is a small but significant event that reverberates through the mediation room. This sudden realisation forces the parties to confront the hidden factors that have fuelled their disagreement, setting the stage for a more authentic and productive dialogue.


To demonstrate, let’s take a hypothetical mediation case of a neighbourhood dispute where the moment the “penny drops” serves as a clear turning point in the proceedings:


Neighbours Mark and Lisa are seemingly arguing about a tree that stands on the boundary between their properties. On the surface, it appears to be a straightforward disagreement about branches encroaching onto each other's gardens.


As the mediation session unfolds, Mark reveals that he believes Lisa is intentionally neglecting the maintenance of her side of the property, leading to the overhanging branches.


On the other hand, Lisa expresses surprise and hurt, explaining that she has been dealing with personal challenges that affect her ability to attend to the garden promptly. She assumed Mark was aware of her difficulties and feels judged for not living up to his expectations.


The "penny drop" moment occurs when Mark and Lisa each begin to realise the extent of their assumptions and the emotions that had remained unspoken. Mark wasn’t previously aware of Lisa's personal struggles, and Lisa hadn't realised the impact her situation had on Mark's perceptions. This mutual understanding becomes a turning point in the mediation.

The deeper complexities at play extend beyond the physical dispute over the tree.


Unspoken emotions, misinterpretations, and assumptions have fuelled a broader sense of dissatisfaction and tension between the neighbours. The "penny drop" moment opens the door for a more honest and empathetic conversation, shifting the focus from the tree to addressing the underlying issues of communication, empathy, and neighbourly understanding.


As a mediator doing a job I love,  it is a privilege to be able to facilitate and support open and honest communication between parties that leads to a very obvious change of atmosphere within the mediation room when the “penny drops”, paving the way for a successful and fully informed outcome.


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