When you consider the importance of honesty in mediation, you would be forgiven for thinking that it could only be applied to the disputants. After all, one of the main goals of mediation is for the participants to have an honest, open, and frank discussion, airing their thoughts and opinions to promote understanding and Empathy.
However, the mediator plays a crucial role in this too. And, considering that they are an impartial third party in the process, they still have a lot of input in terms of honesty.
For starters, there is the matter of explaining the mediation process. For someone who has not been through it before, or anything similar for that matter, mediation can be an intense and stressful experience. Ideally, the mediator would explain what was going on at every step, the reasoning behind it and what the options were from that point. By fully explaining the process, we are hoping to make the participants more comfortable, relaxed, and secure, as well as providing them with more control. This is an important aspect as the outcome is decided entirely by the parties themselves.
This can also be applied to the fact that mediation is voluntary and impartial too. We should take every opportunity to reinforce this, either verbally or through our actions (see our previous article on Gestures). Again, this helps to comfort the participants and builds trust between them and the mediator. And, due to the nature of mediation, this is when we can expect to get the best results.
To go along with this, we must also be open about when we think mediation might not be appropriate. Whilst it is a hugely successful method of resolution that can be applied to many different cases, there are also situations in which an agreeable outcome is simply not possible.
For example, if we feel that someone is not there voluntarily, if there are continuing threats of violence, or if it looks like things are too deeply entrenched, we must be honest in that the mediation will probably not work. Again, this transparency with the participants is important, so as to keep them in the loop and foster an environment of honesty and openness.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, we need to be honest about what mediation actually does and aims to achieve. Despite it becoming increasingly popular, many people still think that it provides a decision as to who is right and, therefore, “the winner” – more along the lines of litigation or arbitration.
Instead, we must point out that we are not there to take sides or make a judgement – we are only there to impartially facilitate a discussion. Our one aim is to help the parties explore the issue and work together to reach an agreement.
While this would always be clarified prior to the actual session, it should still be reinforced during the mediation too. This is crucial in setting the expectations of the participants, as well as getting them to focus on the areas that are important to mediation. By making it absolutely clear that we are only concentrating on the interpersonal relationship involved, we can shift their attention to the underlying issues that can lead to a longer-standing and future-focused agreement.
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