Where’s the magic in mediation?
It’s in helping disputants to listen. Listening helps us understand the perspective of the other side and is an essential ingredient in effective negotiation. Listening also meets a fundamental human need to be heard, to be valued and to be treated justly.
Effective listening however is an early casualty of conflict and disputes. We speak but we are not heard. Our listening becomes biased towards confirming what we already believe regarding the dispute. Our communication centres on those aspects of the dispute that can be argued in court or tribunal.
Mediators help parties in conflict to listen in a number of ways. Firstly, they create a safe space where parties can listen respectfully to each other whilst still expressing emotions. That’s partly by establishing ground rules but also by framing listening as an opportunity to understand the other side. A listener’s silence does not represent tacit agreement and consequently there is no need to interrupt to rebut or contest.
Secondly, mediators help the parties articulate what they want – surfacing interests from the murk of positions – and how they might express this in ways which make it easier to be heard. For instance ‘I’ statements, expressing one’s own perspective and feelings, are easier to hear than ‘You’ statements which are laden with assumptions.
Accordingly I’ll often describe mediation as an opportunity to, ‘say the things that need to be said and hear the things that need to be heard’ and ask at the start, ‘who would like to listen first? (Littlejohn and Domenici, Blackwell Handbook of Mediation, 241).
ClArb accredited commercial mediator, MSc Mediation and Conflict Resolution, MBL (Masters in Business Leadership), BSc (Eng.) in Chemical Engineering