By Patricia Barrett, CFP CDFA Mediator
Remember to discuss interests and the situation first before proposing solutions or drawing conclusions. Avoid discussing past events, if possible, and concentrate on the future as affected by mediations.
If it is possible that some handling of the mediation causes an emotional response from an individual, one of the best methods to defuse the tirade is to apologize. Even if there is no real reason to apologize, doing so can bring the session back from emotional upheaval.
Communication is the key to successful mediations. It is important that the negotiating couple speak to each other during mediation, not only to the mediator. The mediator can assist in clarifying comments to avoid misunderstanding, since undoubtedly the other party will hear something entirely different than what was spoken.
One of the largest impediments to open communication is the lack of listening skills. People often are so busy mentally preparing their rebuttal that they miss much of what is being spoken by another individual. It helps to paraphrase the comments in order to assure proper understanding. In this manner you can understand the other's point of view and the emotions involved in their statements. You can use the phrase “correct me if I’m wrong” in restating their point. This shows respect for their viewpoint and illustrates your attempt to understand as much as possible their viewpoint. It is possible to totally disagree with what is said, yet acknowledge your understanding of what was said.
If you can convince the other side that you are really and truly listening and understanding, you can provide them with a feeling of victory in a small way. This actually allows you to score points in the mediation, since any outcome will be based on both parties feeling a certain level of victory.
Try to avoid feeling that the mediation is a debate or a trial. View it as two intelligent individuals trying to work out a solution to a joint problem.
Speak about yourself, not about the other party. Make statements based on the effect some action has on you, avoiding accusations as to their actions.
Sometimes, saying less is better, especially if your statement will draw a line in the sand and block future discussions. Be sure that your statements will serve a purpose before you speak. Think through statements before presenting to the group.
Your relationship to the other negotiators can either improve the chances for a positive outcome of mediations or hinder them. Working to build a positive environment for discussion will pay in the long run. When negotiating individuals see themselves as adversaries, it is difficult to get past the emotions and move on to the underlying problems. This is where finding points of agreement can provide a more positive environment. Encourage people to see the discussions as a shared problem to be faced jointly.
It is sometimes better to have individuals around a round table instead of on opposite sides of a conference table, since this makes them feel like they are pitted against each other. We want to encourage an attitude of side-by-side, facing a common task, even though they share different interests.
After adequate discussion of interests and airing of emotions, it is time to propose possible solutions. This should probably be conducted in a separate meeting to distinguish it from other meetings. Choose a facilitator and arrange for an informal, relaxed atmosphere. Think in terms of numerous ways to solve the problem. The main idea is to postpone all evaluation or criticism until later in the discussion. State up front that proposed solutions are only for the purpose of brainstorming and should not be considered real concessions or obligations. You may wish for this session to be off the record, in order to allow for the free flow of ideas. Record the ideas for all to see, possibly using a flip chart and markers, so that everyone will have a feeling of accomplishment for their work.