Mediation

by Rita Bailey

Mediating between yourself and another person

If the conflict is between you and another person, what do you do? How might you handle the mediation session? Or how could or would you mediate without a third party mediator present?

Conflicts often start from relatively small issues, and it may be possible to prevent things from escalating by arranging what is, in effect, a mediation meeting between you and the other person, without a third-party mediator. Equally, if you have a conflict with someone else and are considering solving the issues with the help of a mediator, the points made here will help you to get the best out of the process.

Why choose mediation?

The key as to why you might decide to choose mediation to settle a conflict lies in the level of interdependence between you and the other person. If continuing to work with this person remains crucial to your work and career, it is worth attempting to talk things through in an open discussion with the aim of negotiating changes.

When you are personally involved in a conflict, one of the many considerations is whether mediation is the best approach for the issue and how prepared you feel to handle a conflict. Complex situations, which require evidence-based procedures to define rights, agreements or pay outs, or to clarify issues concerning sex, race and/or religious discrimination, are not suited for mediation. In cases where a disputing party’s rights and interests are subject to law, a litigation approach (such as tribunals or arbitration) may well be more appropriate – albeit at a cost. (See When to mediate.)

In any conflict situation, emotions are usually running high, especially if this is an on-going issue with some history to it. Each of us has a habitual way of dealing with conflict (see Conflict Resolution – Know your default style). If conflict feels too uncomfortable or difficult for you, then it is advisable to get an impartial competent person to act as mediator. Conflict can be difficult for all human beings. Sometimes it can feel as if our only options are to fight, run away or avoid it altogether.

Preparing yourself for mediation

First, decide whether mediation is appropriate. If you decide to do it, you need to be prepared to approach the other person and suggest that both of you meet to talk matters through. Remember, a mediation meeting is voluntary and consensual, so agreeing to talk to each other is one of the first steps.

Attitude

It’s important to get clear about your own feelings before you make the approach. You also need to be very clear about your aim in choosing the mediation approach, which is a win-win result that leaves both of you happy to continue working together.

It’s a rare conflict of any kind in which anyone is fully aware of the issues involved and an even rarer conflict in which one side holds all the moral turf.

Don Baker

You will be aware of your own feelings and perceptions about the issue or situation, and you also need to accept that you may have made negative (or unfair and unjustified) judgments about the other individual. Remember, conflict is about perceptions, rights and interests. So each person believes that they are right and their solution is the best. Adopting a helpful attitude at all times means remaining open and willing to listen, no matter how difficult the conversation becomes. Your goal is to stay open to reaching a consensual solution.

Be impartial at all times, putting your own emotions and judgments aside while you listen to the other person so you can focus on the ‘greater good’ of reaching a consensual solution.

Key skills

There are various skills all mediators, including you, will find helpful in mediation.

Questioning

Ask open questions to keep the conversation flowing and closed questions to clarify and close down on any aspect of the conversation which has reached agreement. (See the topic on Questioning Skills.)

Reframing

It is natural that intense emotions will surface while two people are resolving an issue and hostile words may be used if people feel frustrated or angry. The art of reframing negative expressions into positive ones can be used to diffuse situation, especially if the accusations are being directed at you during the meeting!

Stress management

Difficult conversations are never easy, so don’t set yourself up to be perfect. Do your best to stay calm, however. Breathe deeply, taking long deep breaths, and think before you respond. (See the Emotional Intelligence topic and NLP – Managing your state.)

Always take a pause before you respond to comments made during the mediation dialogue. In any conversation, each person will want their story to be heard and will mix feelings with facts, opinions, assumptions and hearsay. Ensure you listen carefully and sift through what is said, summarising and clarifying what is said or not said. (Again, see Emotional Intelligence and also Listening Skills.)

Approach the other person

Approach the person when things are not too busy, asking if they have the time to speak to you – ‘Have you got a minute?’ Using positive language, propose that you meet up with them to talk through how you can work together to find a solution.

Outline the issue calmly, staying as objective as possible and using neutral language to ensure there is no implication of blame. Emphasise that the aim is to work together to solve the conflict and move on.

The ideal outcome of the approach is that the other person agrees to the conversation and welcomes the discussion. Realise, however, they may resist your offer as they will also have concerns about holding a difficult conversation with you.

Seek to understand before you are understood.

Steven Covey

Understanding is where you need to start if you are going to be able to persuade them to join you in a mediation session. If they decide to engage in this discussion, you may be sure the other party will have their own perception of the issue, as well as personal concerns and interests they want to secure. Be ready to set your own assumptions, frustrations and pre-judgments aside. You will need to stay calm and listen without getting upset. The other person’s objections will need to be dealt with, as the last thing you want is for defensiveness to arise.

  • Acknowledge their reasons and treat this as important.
  • Show them the benefits of talking it through to share ideas or save time and counter their objections by highlighting the benefits of solving the conflict.
  • Remember not to cajole or pressure the other individual, as they may choose to say ‘yes’ without really meaning it, in which case they will not engage in the meeting and the conflict situation will continue, whatever may be said.
  • Arrange a time and place that suits both of you. You can even ask the individual for suggestions, to ensure they are interacting equally with progressing matters.
Key point

Ensure that you are not drawn into an argument about the issue at this stage. Remember, you are just having a conversation about holding a potential meeting that suits both of you.

Setting up this mediation meeting is the same as setting up a meeting between two other people in dispute. The most important aspect is to avoid any disruptions or distractions while the two of you are discussing the issue.

The mediation dialogue

This stage will look like a three-way mediation using a third-party mediator. So use the structure given in Joint mediation meeting and dialogue. The key here is to remember that you will be wearing two different hats – as mediator and as one of the disputants.

You may find this stage challenging, as you will be attempting to get your needs and interests met while making sure the other person’s needs are met also. You both need to end up happy with the result and equally committed to the solution.

In your negotiations, ensure that the conversation keeps going, so remain encouraging, making conciliatory gestures throughout.

Patience is important. Make sure neither of you give up or avoid talking about the issue at hand. The drawback to acting as mediator as well as one of the parties to the dispute is that you could end up either failing to give the other person a fair hearing or, which is equally important, taking such care to make sure the other person is heard that you neglect to fully express your own perceptions, feelings, needs and interests. A thorough mediation dialogue may take time, so be prepared to set adequate time aside (between one and two hours) and take a break if required.

Written agreement

True mediation increases commitment and shifts the attitude of both parties from a competitive, defensive approach to an attitude of creative problem-solving on the part of you both. It is in this mutual problem-solving space that consensual solutions can emerge, increasing the likelihood of things working and sticking. At this point, you may still want to write down what’s agreed and share the copy of the agreement (see Closure).