The A-Z of Mediation: Keep it Simple

Posted on: November 19th, 2023

There are few things in life quite as simple as sitting down and having a conversation with someone. Whether it be small talk about the weather, or debating the meaning of life at 2am, the actual process itself is very straight-forward.

However, mediation is no ordinary conversation. From the outside, it can appear incredibly complicated, especially when you consider the role of the mediator.

For starters, mediators have to adapt to an infinite number of possibilities and variables. Whether it be the types of participants, the different styles of communication, or indeed the history of the dispute, there are many things that can affect how the mediation runs and whether it will or won’t be ‘successful’. These variables can - and will - throw up a number of obstacles and challenges, all of which the mediator needs to be prepared to deal with on the fly.

This can take up an enormous amount of energy over the course of a day and can sound daunting to those just starting out. As a result, we would always advise new mediators to just KEEP IT SIMPLE.

The simplicity of the process is in fact one of mediation’s greatest strengths. In our relational model, RE:TALK, there are seven stages:

1. Initial contact with Party 1
2. Initial contact with Party
3. Preparing to work on the dispute
4. Face-to-face session
5. Exploring and working on the issues
6. Building agreements
7. Closure and follow up

These seven stages allow for flexibility within them, while also keeping things straightforward and easy to follow (for both the mediator and the parties). This then allows the mediator to focus on the participants and be present ‘in the moment’, allowing themselves to go with the flow and see what emerges as a result.

While the mediator is very much involved in stages 1 and 2 – setting boundaries, allowing for offloading, and getting the interaction going – an even larger part of the day involves holding the space and creating an environment that allows the parties to steer the direction of the conversation. As the day progress into the face-to-face joint session, the mediator starts to take a backseat in the conversation, allowing the parties to take over and to discuss between them how to bring their dispute to an end.

When turning up to a mediation case, mediators don’t need to come armed with theories, ideas, or suggestions, nor do they need a list of magic questions or phrases. They just need to arrive with an open mind, ready to hear whatever the parties have to say, and be flexible enough to meet the parties’ specific needs in moving on from their conflict.