5 Basic Mediation Skills Everyone Should Know
Sunday 20th November 2011 | Emma Robson
It's not just high profile contract disputes or long standing community grievances that require mediation. Sadly most corporations do not have the budget to have a dedicated mediator on call to deal with the daily disputes that break out at work, Nor do most couples have the luxury of calling in professional help when the screaming matches generate noise complaints from the neighbors. That's why we've put together our top 5 basic mediation skills that you should know. Skills such as...
#5 Active Listening
You're sitting in a room mediating a dispute between two parties. You're skilled enough to know not to be biased so you facilitate discussion between parties using whatever model you were trained on. Sounds like you're being the perfect facilitator right? Wrong! In a quest to remain impartial many managers & facilitators go into 'autopilot' when it comes to chairing a dispute. Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret and evaluate what they hear.
The key skill is learning to stay impartial whilst also being acutely aware of that persons position and the biases that they themselve have in the dispute. This helps the facilitator identify and overcome the barriers to resolution that do not get spoken about directly during the mediation process.
The problem is more widespread that you think. A 2002 by Newcastle University found that 78% of managers trained in active listening only 8 weeks previously showed signs of passive listening and 'glazing over' within 15 minutes of chairing a dispute.
So the next time you are mediating a dispute be aware of how you listen, repeat and reflect - and follow the 5 steps to active listening.
#4 Awareness of Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice supportive bias is a cognitive bias that affects nearly everyone, and it is vital to be aware of this process during mediation proceedings. Simply put it is the brains tendency to ascribe positive attributes to a past choice it has made. This makes it much harder for a person to 'back down' from a position, or even see the other person's point of view as they have already convinced themselves that a choice they have made in the past was the best course of action and therefore the most positive (best) solution.
This is why as an impartial outsider mediating a dispute it can seem like some clients are incredibly stubborn or blind to the negative consequences of their actions. In short, people tend to remember the consequences of their choices as better than they actually were and worse still this can influence a person's future decision making as we tend to use past experience to 'fill in the gaps' missing from information presented to us when we make future decisions.
Studies have shown that the effects of choice supportive bias increase with age, and are much more likely to be observed in people aged 40 years and over.
So the next time you are mediating a dispute in which a person is convinced they were right, despite obvious evidence to the contrary ask them to write a list of all the positive and negative consequences of their decision. Afterwards break the list down and analyse with the client whether those consequences really were so positive after all. The aim is to break the decision down to take it out of context of the dispute or wider situation. This will help them realize the real consequences of the decision, one by one.
#3 How to Move Past Impasse
Sometimes while resolving a dispute it can feel like you've hit a brick wall in the negotiations - an issue presents itself that neither party will budge on. Moving past an impasse is an acquired skill that can take years for a skilled mediator to learn. However understanding the basics can have a dramatic impact on the resolution process in most cases.
Start off by easing the disputing parties into a dialogue and use generalities, be careful not to get into details too early on. Use your active listening skills to transition from an impasse into a problem solving dialogue, using phrases like "Is that something we should pursue here?". Be careful to remember that at the early stage of the problem solving dialogue you are very much still in an active listening mode.
Quite often the disputing parties can have a mindset that is very much stuck in the past - at this point you may want to pause and say something like "It's very clear to me how strongly you feel about this issue. I now have a good understanding about the reason for why this is bothering you and what has occurred in the past. At this point I think it would be positive to try and look at ways of moving forward, so let's look at the future. Would you like to try this approach for a while? "
Finally be aware that if the deadlock has gone on for a while, both parties will resist moving to a resolution too fast, even if they agree with it. That's why it's important to take gradual steps and alter your language accordingly, for example asking if they agree to certain concessions 'in principle'. This allows the disputing parties to edge closer towards a resolution without knee-jerk reactions kicking in.
2 Creative Response
Conflict resolution sometimes involves thinking outside the box, or perhaps more appropriately 'thinking outside of the conflict'. Creative response involves using role play and thought exercises to take the disputing parties out of the real world conflict (in which they will have deep rooted emotions and biases) and present them with hypothetical situations in which they would have to reach a consensus. This allows them to step outside of the defensive roles they have created and start cooperating. When the parties go back to the real dispute they will find this process of cooperation follows them.
Creative response is mainly used in divorce mediation, community disputes and school / college mediation. However the same principles can be applied to any conflict resolution process. However it is important to remember that you may meet more resistance to this in professional environments.
#1 Appropriate Assertiveness
Appropriate assertiveness is one of the most misunderstood concepts in conflict resolution, and most people take it to mean literally 'being assertive enough without being aggressive'. Appropriate assertiveness is much more about being honest with yourself and others, and not allowing other people to put words in your mouth. "I would like you to read this information I wrote about assertiveness." This is an example of an assertive statement. Here are some more examples:
- "Thanks for your suggestion. I'll take that into consideration"
- "No, I am not busy on Friday, but I would like to keep it that way."
- "Could you tell me more information so that I can understand what you are trying to say?"
- "I will have to get back with you about that."
- "I think I understand what you are saying, but I do not agree."
It is vital to understand it is not about "getting your point across" or about trying to control or steer the course of a mediation proceeding. Too often people use this as a mask for a bruise ego, and actually end of communicating in an aggressive or passive aggressive manner.
If there is one mediation skill everyone should learn, it is to be aware of what language they use, and what language the parties in the dispute use and learn how to diffuse confrontational behavior with appropriate assertiveness.
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