Mediation is a structured process and one that uses specialised communication techniques, so much of its success hinges on the skill of the mediator and their adherence to the principles of the process. At this time of the year we look at The Grinch that stole the mediation, that is the three key principles that if neglected by the mediator, will imperil the process.
1) Talking: Mediation does use specialised communication techniques, but these are directed at the participants, to help them identify and express their needs and positions. The rule of thumb is 80:20, that is the mediator only talks for 20% of the time, and 80% of the communication is between the parties, as facilitated by the mediator. The mediator who doesn’t listen and mostly talks is a Grinch! It is not about You!
2) Bias: Mediators! Please check and re-check your personal baggage at the door. We all have our likes and dislikes, and our experiences that inform who we are, but the mediator must be impartial and neutral. If you haven’t developed and engaged in a preparatory process whereby you become aware of your unconscious biases before the mediation, you can be certain they will be triggered during the mediation and you will be The Grinch who took sides.
3) Closed Questions: Who doesn’t like a definitive Yes or No answer? An effective mediator, that’s who. Mediation uses specialised communications techniques, which include asking open questions that allow participants to full explore and articulate their needs and positions. Open questions begin with words such as "why," "how," and "what if?" to elicit the kind of ‘blue sky thinking’ that leads not only to creative solutions, but solutions that are led by the participants themselves, which are more likely to be adhered to.
The risk with The Grinch who interrogates with closed questions, that only need a single word answer, isn’t only the dearth of a meaningful mediation process, but also a solution that is imposed and directed at the participants, thus undermining their autonomy.
Articles and research abound on how to conduct a mediation, but it is by taking this converse approach ,and looking at the characteristics of The Grinch who stole the mediation, that we gain insight into why the principles and practices of mediation are necessary. Reflecting on the opposite of how a mediator should behave, makes us conscious of the supporting interrelated elements of a good, working mediation process. Examining the amount of communication, the role of bias, and the use of open questions also focuses our attention on the starting point of all good mediations, regardless of context, and that is the mediation is about the participants, not the mediator. Everything in an effective mediation, flows from this and through the whole of the mediation. Mediation thus is a giving process, a giving of time, of space, of being listened to, of being afforded the freedom and autonomy to work, relate and create, with the win-win in mind.