The A-Z of Mediation: Assertiveness

Posted on: January 16th, 2023

Welcome to a new series of blogs on our website called The A-Z of Mediation. Every fortnight, we'll be taking a look at different topics relating to mediation, ranging from key mediation skills, parts of the process, or outcomes that we want to achieve.

First up is ASSERTIVENESS, a crucial skill in becoming a good mediator.

'Assertive' is often used to describe a person that is confident and assured in how they go about getting what they need. They stand up for themselves and others, and aren't prepared to passively accept what's 'wrong'.

So how does this tie into mediation?

Very often, a lack of assertiveness is the cause of the conflict. For example, shared boundaries or expectations may have been broken. There might have been a lack of communication about the impact, or about how the parties wanted to resolve the issue.

It may actually be the case that those boundaries weren't communicated effectively to begin with. Had the parties been more assertive, there would have been a better mutual understanding and the conflict wouldn't have even happened.

And when we look at the actual mediation process, one common objective is to rebuild those boundaries. As mediators, we're supporting the parties to be more assertive and to regain a better understanding of one another.

And part of our own assertiveness is to be crystal clear about the role of the mediator: we're not coming in to 'rescue' anyone, we're impartial, and we don't decide the outcome.

We also have to be clear about what we expect of the disputants. We must agree with parties what is acceptable and what isn’t: no abusive language, no violent behaviour, and no persistence in talking over each other. The parties need to feel safe and that they've been heard, and our own assertiveness helps that to happen.

In our experience, displaying assertiveness also 'rubs off' on the parties. It can demonstrate to them that 'this is how we deal with conflict' and that this is how they can deal with it in future. This could go some way to preventing further conflicts too.