Skills For Mediation

Hints for a Productive Mediation Experience

If you're preparing for a mediation to solve any type of problem, it helps to kriow about 4 key skills that can help you during the mediation process. Most mediations involve a mediator who has been trained to stay neutral and help the participants make their own decisions. The mediator is in charge of the process and the participants are in charge of making proposals and making decisions about the issues at hand. Sometimes people try to persuade the mediator to take sides, but the mediator is supposed to be very careful to stay neutral and to help the parties make their own decisions. The following 4 skills can help.

1.  Managed Emotions

Talking about unresolved issues can be emotionally upsetting. However, it is possible to manage your own emotions by anticipating upsetting moments and preparing for them. Don't be surprised if you feel frustrated or angry upon hearing different points of view, hearing proposals you don't like, and having to think of alternatives. Remember that most conflicts are resolved through this process of talking and listening and creating solutions. Prepare yourself to deal with any possible difficult moments.

How can you help yourself stay calm? One of the best techniques is to memorize short encouraging statements that you can tell yourself as you are going through the process, such as:


•   The agreement at the end is all that matters.

•   Sometimes it takes a while, but an agreement is usually reached.

•  With high-conflict emotions it usually takes longer, but agreements can still be reached.


•  Personal attacks are not about me - they're about the person who lacks self-control.

•  I don't have to defend myself or prove myself -I'm already okay as a person.

•   We can disagree about the past - reaching an agreement about the future is what matters.

2. Flexible Thinking

A big focus of mediation and other settlement methods is making proposals. It helps to prepare proposals for each issue you are trying to resolve or plan to raise in the mediation. That way you don't get stuck in "ali-or-nothing thinking" and can avoid just getting upset when your first proposal isn't immediately accepted. Any concern about the past can be turned into a proposal about the future.

It can help to prepare two proposals on any issue that you or the other person is likely to raise, so that you don't get stuck if your first proposal is not accepted right away. You can make a list of issues and then write two proposals for how you would like to see each one get resolved.

Responding to proposals is another area in which practice can help. In general, just respond with "Yes"

''No" or "I'll  Think About It." This saves arguing over the proposal itself, since what really matters is finding an agreement. Of course, you can ask questions about a proposal for greater understanding and to picture how it would look if you both agreed. But avoid challenging questions, like: "Why did you say that?" Or: "Do you realize that's ridiculous?" If you disagree, just pause and calmly say "I won't agree to that," and focus on making a new proposal yourself.

3.   Moderate Behaviors

Mediation  is a structured  process, to help people think of reasonable  solutions  to problems,  even when they are upset. Therefore, there are several ground rules in most mediations. It helps to think about them in advance and remind yourself to follow them, including:

A.   Don't interrupt  while the other person is speaking.  Instead, make notes to remind yourself of any ideas that pop up while he or she is talking. Then you can raise them when appropriate.

B.   Treat everyone  with respect. This means avoiding insulting  comments, raising your voice or pointing  fingers. These behaviors  often trigger defensiveness in the other person. Instead, you want everyone  to stay calm and rational, in order to focus on solving the problems  you came to discuss. Speaking respectfully goes a long way toward reaching agreements that will work and last over time.

C.  Use "I" statements. These are sentences that start with "I feel..." or "I prefer..." or "I have another idea..." Avoid "You" statements, such as "You always..." or "You never..." "You" statements tend to trigger defensiveness in the other person, which will make it harder to reach an agreement. Just use "I" statements to convey your own perspective, rather than assumptions or criticisms  of the other person's perspective. Remember, all you need to do is to reach an agreement. You don't need to try to change the other person's way of thinking (which is unlikely  anyway).

D.   Ask to take a break, if necessary.  Avoid just getting up and walking out. Ask for a break, so that everyone can stop for a few minutes. Mediation is more flexible than a court hearing or arbitration. Taking breaks can help you earn respect - rather than resentment if you rush out­ and can help you calm down if you're upset. It's also fme to take a break to get advice from a lawyer, friend or other advisor before you make fmal agreements. Just ask for some time to do so - either a few minutes, or several days or weeks if necessary. Mediators  generally  do not pressure  you to make final decisions  at the same time as you first discuss an issue.

4.   Check Yourself

From time to time, ask yourself if you are using these skills. It's  easy to forget in the middle of discussing problems or upsetting  issues. The mediator  will try to help everyone  in the mediation  stay calm and focus on understanding problems  and finding solutions. Just think about these four skills before the mediation and during the mediation, and you may do very well.

Yes, No, or I’ll THINK ABOUT IT


Whether in a divorce, a workplace dispute, or a conflict with  a neighbor, it's easy to get caught  up in defending our own behavior and point of view.  In a conflict, people  can "push  our buttons," and it's  easy to react  before  we know it. The focus can quickly become  personal and about  the past.

To avoid  this  problem, there's a simple, two-step method that  seems to help,

no matter what  type  of conflict you are in.  If you think you are going  to be in a difficult situation, remind yourself of these  two  steps before  you start talking. And if you are in the middle of an argument, you can always  shift  to this approach.


Whatever has happened before  is less important than  what  to do now.  Avoid trying to emphasize how bad the problem is or criticizing the  other  person's past actions. There's  nothing he or she can do about  the past now.  This just triggers defensiveness. Plus, people  never  agree  on what  happened in the past anyway. Instead, picture a solution and propose it.

For example, in a divorce dispute:  "If you're going  to be late to pick up the kids on Fridays,  then  I propose  wejust change  the pickup  time to a more realistic time. Instead of S pm, let's make  it 6:30pm."

Or in a workplace dispute: "I propose that  we talk  to our manager about finding a better cubicle  for you,  since you have  so many  phone  calls that  need to be made  and I often  hear them."

2)  Second Person: YES,  NO,  or  I'LL THINK ABOUT IT

All you have  to do to respond to such a proposal is say:  "Yes."  "No."  or "I'll think about  it." You always  have the right to say:  "Yes."  "No."  or "I'll think about  it." Of course,  there  are consequences to each choice,  but you always have these  three  choices at least.  Here's  some examples of each:

YES: "Yes, I agree.  Let's  do that." And then  stop!  No need to save face, evaluate the other  person's proposal, or give the  other  person  some negative feedback. Just let it go. After  all, if you have  been personally criticized or attacked, it's  not  about  you.  Personal attacks are not  problem-solving.  They are  about the person making the hostile attack. You are  better off to ignore everything else.

NO:   "No,  I don't want  to change  the pickup  time. I'II try  to make  other arrangements to get there  on time.  Let's  keep it as is." Just keep it simple. Avoid the urge  to defend  your  decision  or criticize the  other  person's idea.  You said no.  You're done.  Let it drop.

I'LL THINK ABOUT IT:  "I don't  know  about  your  proposal, but  I'll think

about  it. I'll get back to you tomorrow about  your  idea.  Right  now  I have to get back to work.  Thanks  for making a proposal."  Once again, just stop the discussion  there. Avoid the temptation to discuss it at length, or question the validity of the other  person's point  of view.  It is what  it is.

When you say "I'II think about  it," you are respecting the other  person.  It calms people  down to know  you are taking them seriously enough to think about  what  they  said.  This doesn't mean you will agree.  ltjust means  you'll think about  it.

MAKE A NEW PROPOSAL: After  you think about  it, you can always  make  a new proposal. Perhaps you'll think of a new approach that  neither of you thought of before. Try it out.  You can always  propose  anything. (But remember there  are consequences to each proposal.) And you can always  respond: "Yes." "No."  or "I'II think about  it." (And there  are consequences to each of those choices, too.)·

AVOID MAKING IT PERSONAL: In the heat  of the conflict, it's  easy to react  and criticize the  other  person's proposals-or even to criticize the  other  person  personally, such as saying  that he or she is arrogant, ignorant, stupid, crazy or evil.  It's  easy and natural to want  to say:  "You're  so stupid  it makes  me sick."  Or:  "What  are you, crazy?" "Your proposal is the worst  idea I have ever heard." But if you want  to end the dispute - 

"'I'll think about  it."