When we ask past learners about parts of our mediation training that they found particularly useful, REFRAMING is an area that always pops up.
And it’s for good reason. Whilst it is a skill that has many applications throughout life, it is also one of the most important tools that mediators have at their disposal. It is used to lessen resistance of the parties, whilst also keeping the mediation moving forward in a constructive, yet unobtrusive, way.
And, whilst it may be difficult to master for newly-accredited mediators, it is something that can become almost second nature after practice.
Of course, there is bound to be some hostility at the start of the mediation process. Parties are still embroiled in the dispute that brought them to this point, as well as the fact that they are finding themselves in an unusual and somewhat stressful situation. As such, things said by one of them could aggravate the other, especially if the comments are:
• Focused on the past to justify their view or prove they are right – “I don’t want you using obscenities like that in the office!”
• Intended to attribute blame or fault – “We used to have a peaceful neighbourhood before you moved in!”
• Just repeating their positions over and over again – “How dare you go tearing down the street all the time in your car – you could end up knocking one of my kids over!”
With reframing, we are attempting to change how these thoughts are presented so that they are more likely to support a resolution, without actually affecting the meaning.
So, taking up the above examples again, the below statements would be said to the party who made the comment, aiming to:
• Switch the focus from the past to the future – “You sound angry about the language that’s being used, and you want that to change.”
• Move away from blame and towards responsibility – “You want a peaceful neighbourhood and, for you, it’s not the same as it used to be.”
• Help people to leave their entrenched positions and consider the interests behind them – “As a parent, you want to know that your children will be safe.”
However, reframing is not without its potential pitfalls. As with any situation where we are trying to present meaning differently, we need to be careful to not mis-represent them. Our own interpretations or biases could creep in, or errors could be made with regards to hearing. Due to the impartiality and neutrality that mediators must display, we need to be aware of the context and what our intentions are, to make sure that the likelihood of this happening is at an absolute minimum.
As well, there is also a matter of timing – are they actually ready to see different perspectives to begin with? If we just start changing their words as soon as they enter, it could actually work to increase resistance towards the process. As such, a degree of trust and understanding must first be built before jumping in with reframing.
And, of course, reframing is not a skill to be used to manipulate them into our own logic and way of thinking, with no regard for their own. As always, we are trying to guide the process forward in the least obtrusive way possible. It should be done in a constructive way, empowering the parties and opening the door to the mutually acceptable resolution that we always aim for.