Mediation

by Rita Bailey

Joint mediation meeting and dialogue

The individual meetings prior to the joint meeting will have provided a platform for cooperation, helping individuals to have a problem-solving conversation that is progressive.

Meeting the individuals

Welcome each person as they arrive and set them at ease, but at the same time do your best to not get too chatty with individuals, as you want to ensure you don’t compromise your impartiality.

Sometimes participants can be late, perhaps because they are stuck in traffic, and if they arrive and see the mediator in a friendly conversation with the other party this can raise a question mark over your neutrality. You must ensure that everyone understands the importance of turning up on time as lateness (even if justified) can fuel fires.

If, for any reason, someone doesn’t turn up and they are not obtainable by phone, you should wait longer than you normally would, while reassuring the other individual that you have been trying to contact the person who’s missing. If you decide to cancel the mediation session, the participant who did turn up will want your advice. Be careful with sympathy or suggestions – maintain your impartiality.

The opening statement

The mediator is the first person to speak during this joint meeting.

Your opening comments will set the platform for the mediation session. Use this time effectively, establishing your role, presence and authority to control the process of mediation. As you make the opening statement, remember that people may not take in the information fully, as they may be tense, skeptical, nervous or even upset.

Mediation, although a much-used label, is often little known as a process, and staff who decide to take part may still have a negative perception of it. It can also seem daunting because the session will require participants to be truthful, even owning up to mistakes.

Sample opening structure

Your opening is important, as it establishes the atmosphere of the session, explains the nature of mediation and your role as mediator, and establishes the all-important ground rules which provide the foundation for success.

Example

Thank you for being willing to participate in this mediation session. My name is X and I am going to be your mediator for today.

To begin, let me explain what mediation is, what my role as mediator is [not to make suggestions, to stay impartial, clarify and summarise, to keep control of the process, to keep things moving, to ask questions] and the ground rules [see below] so we can work smoothly together...

Below is a sample structure in more detail.

  • Welcome the other people and make introductions.
  • Explain the purpose of mediation.
  • Explain the role of the mediator and emphasise that your role is to be impartial and non-judgmental.
  • Highlight that both parties are here to consider how to improve the situation and compliment them on their willingness to take part.
  • Remind them how long the session will be; if they say they cannot stay that long, do not press the issue. You could say ‘Let’s see how far we get by X and then check in on how much time you can stay’, and mention the opportunity of multiple sessions.
  • Explain that what is said at the session will remain confidential and ask everyone to keep this rule.
  • Outline the other ground rules (only one person speaks at a time, no interruptions, participants are to maintain a respectful interaction and the role of the mediator if the session gets out of control).
  • Outline the mediation process briefly. It is important to emphasise that each participant will have equal turns to speak without interruption.
  • Explain to participants that you will make notes.
  • Explain to participants that if they come to an agreement, you will write down the agreement; everyone will sign it; they will each be given a copy, and a typed copy can be sent to them.
  • Explain that, if needed, the mediator may hold separate meetings to speak to the individuals.
  • Check if there are any concerns or questions about the process and then ask if they agree to start the session.

The mediation dialogue

Each individual will now have the chance to tell their story and express their feelings without challenge or interruption. It is also an opportunity for you to start to build an overview of the situation.

  • Ask individuals to respect and listen to each other when the other person is speaking/responding; they are welcome to make a note about any point they want to raise.
  • Listen for anything new the other person didn’t know.
  • Invite someone to start or just pick the most agitated or upset person. If those listening make comments, stop them from interrupting and remind them that they will also have a fair chance give their point of view.
  • You may need to restate the ground rules explicitly and insist they stop if they keep interrupting.
Example
  • Liz, Sally is talking; you will have your turn/you have had your turn.
  • Mike, I realise it’s hard to listen. Pease write down what you want to say; I will give you your turn.

After each person has had their chance to speak, check if there is anything more they want to mention and then thank them. Do not ask them any questions or summarise at this stage; just thank the person who spoke.

If someone is reluctant to speak, encourage them so that you get the information. If people are repeating themselves to excess or being long-winded, step in positively but firmly.

 

Keeping control of the dialogue

Once everyone has spoken without interruption, you can now open the discussion. This part of the mediation process can seem quite messy and chaotic at times. However, if you learn to wait out the roller coasters of emotions, they will run out of steam. All you need to do is maintain the structure and keep control by acting as gatekeeper and facilitator.

Example

Clare, can you hold that thought; I want to hear John’s reaction to what you have just said, then we will get back to you.

The mediation dialogue is the opportunity for each person to respond to what was said and to perceptions and feelings, and to ask questions. It is during this time that a picture starts to develop regarding the obstacles, core issues and possibilities for moving forward.

As the dialogue progresses, it becomes an open discussion which will help each person see and acknowledge the other’s perspective and needs, and can lead to resolving specific concerns and issues and moving towards an agreement. The mediator now has to keep control of the discussion of intense feelings and views, which are often quite polarised.

During this time, you are assisting the individuals to build rapport, helping them to listen attentively to each other and keeping emotions within boundaries. As this goes on, it’s important to watch out for seeds of agreement, whether these are non-verbal or verbal cues. These seeds will be useful reminders as individuals move to find common ground.

Managing the mediation process

To intervene or not?

Sometimes, a discussion may go off at a tangent or individuals are either talking at once, interrupting each other, becoming increasingly rude or not sticking to the ground rules. It is at these moments that the mediator will have to bring the session back under control.

Here are some ideas that may help you with this:

  • Use confident, firm assertive voice and gestures
  • Use an individual’s name, while looking at them directly
  • Keep to short sentences – ‘Hold it there!’
  • Stand up and put open palms out
  • Refer to your opening statement
  • Take a break!
  • You may need to hold a separate meeting with the disruptive individual, describing their behaviour, its impact and the consequences for the meeting. Speak to them, outlining what you need them to do to continue the mediation.
Example

Here are some sample statements to help you:

  • Dave, you have interrupted Tanya many times, even when I have asked you to stop.
  • You said you were keen to work things out so that your team can get back to normal, so you must let him have a chance to finish.
  • I understand you’ve been frustrated by the interactions to date, but accusations aren’t going to help.