There are not many situations in life that can truly be considered to have a win/win outcome. With regards to conflict and disputes, weighing up and balancing each side’s aims and objectives can be an especially challenging task, even for the most experienced of resolvers.
Fortunately, this is where mediation shines. Contrary to other forms of resolution, such as arbitration and litigation, the main job of mediation is to find an agreeable outcome that benefits everyone involved.
For that to happen, however, the thoughts, opinions and concerns of all participants must be considered and addressed. Mediation is an opportunity for them to present their position, as well as having the ability to tell their side of the story.
And that is why LISTENING is such an integral part of the process.
Of course, listening is something that we do every day and, as a result, is often taken for granted. However, “active listening”, as it is called, is much more difficult to do well. It is more proactive than usual, requiring the listener to fully concentrate, understand what is being said and then respond appropriately.
So how do we break down active listening?
– Offer our undivided attention and ensure that the participant has uninterrupted time and opportunities to think and speak. We must also consider our frame of mind during the meetings, as well as our body language and eye contact. These must all be directed towards the individual.
– Listen to the participants with an open mind, withholding judgement at all times – remember, we are not there as any sort of judge, just as a facilitator for the discussion. An open mind is also useful when accepting different perspectives and agreement possibilities.
– Show empathy by appreciating what the parties have been through and are feeling. Conflict will always be emotional and we must take all of it in as part of the process, regardless of whether it’s good or bad. Feeding back positively with vocal cues and body language tells the participant that you are on the same page as them.
– Ask questions that are open-ended and non-leading. Not only does this help identify key points that might need to be addressed, it also shows that you are interested in what is being said and want to hear more. Make sure that you aren’t interrupting though.
– Summarise what has been said to demonstrate that you have fully understood what has been communicated, so much so that you are confident in re-interpreting it without the loss or addition of meaning. Again, this also helps our role as the mediator as it can conveniently round things up in our mind too.
By fulfilling all of the above, not only are we helping our own role in finding out information, we are also showing the participant that we are listening to what they are saying. It is also important to understand the meaning and emotion behind it, good or bad, and not just the actual content. If the participant does not feel as though this is happening, they are more likely to close up and be less likely to co-operate towards an agreement at the end of it all.
And, in order to receive the win/win outcome that mediation aims to achieve, that simply cannot happen.
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