Finding Insights in the Garden: Lessons from Mediation

Before convening a formal mediation meeting, I always have several private conversations with each party. This approach allows me to delve deeper into their perspectives and uncover the underlying issues. I ask questions that provoke introspection: Did the other person make you feel demeaned? What was going on for you just before the difficult conversation? How would you describe your state of mind? Is there a history between you?

Today, after two such enlightening calls, I joined a webinar to improve my mediation skills. Energized by the discussions and inspired by the beautiful day, I decided to tackle the chore of turning the compost in my garden.

When I opened the compost bin, I was greeted by a flurry of bugs and a strong, rich aroma of decomposition. It was a sensory assault that made me step back, accidentally stepping on my dog’s foot, causing him to yelp. As I began the smelly job, an insight emerged that mirrored the conversations I’d had earlier.

Much of what had been in the bin for the past year had transformed into rich, nutritious compost, unrecognizable from its original form. Yet, there were also stubborn items: egg shells, avocado pits, and corn cobs that had not broken down.

The Transformative Elements

In mediation, the easily decomposed elements are like the grasses, twigs, and vegetable peelings in the compost. With the right conditions—temperature, moisture, and a bit of help from bugs and worms—these elements break down and enrich the soil. Similarly, in mediation, certain issues can be resolved relatively easily with the right approach and willingness to engage.

The Needs-More-Work Elements

Then there are the eggshells—elements that need more effort. If crushed before being added to the compost, they would have decomposed by now, contributing valuable calcium. In mediation, these are the issues that require more work. Do we take the time to break them down into manageable pieces, enriching the relationship, or do we leave them as they are, taking their time to resolve?

The Unchangeable Elements

Finally, there are the seemingly unchangeable items, like avocado pits. In a compost bin, they might seem like they’ll never break down. But given the right conditions—planted in a different environment—they can grow into avocado trees, providing nourishment. In mediation, these represent the non-negotiable issues, the “hills to die on.” While they might seem intransigent, with the right perspective, they can still offer value in a different way.


Mediation, like composting, involves identifying what can change, what needs more work, and what might remain unchanged. Even when some elements resist transformation, the process itself provides valuable nourishment. Participants leave with greater insight and growth, even if not all issues are resolved.

By embracing the composting process in mediation, we can help individuals see the potential for growth and transformation, even in the most challenging aspects of their conflicts.

1 Comment

  1. Mége Houghton on June 20, 2024 at 6:44 pm

    Dear Delphine.
    I enjoyed the analogy .
    Thank you .

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