The A-Z of Mediation: Empathy

Posted on: March 20th, 2023

In stages 1 and 2 of our mediation model, the mediator carries out individual meetings with disputing parties. Here, they can get each person’s side of the story, collecting information on how they have got to this point in the relationship and establishing what they would like to achieve within the mediation.

The importance of empathy in mediation

As such, EMPATHY is an important skill to have as a mediator. They must be able to listen to each individual’s story and be able to understand their thoughts, opinions, and feelings about the ongoing situation. The mediator should be able to put themselves in the participant’s shoes, see things from their perspective, and fully understand what is going on from each party's point of view.

Of course, there’s a fine line to toe here. The mediator also needs to remain impartial throughout, even if they are displaying empathy. They need to be able to identify with what the parties are going through, without going so far as to take their side.

With this in mind, there are a number of ways in which we can show empathy as mediators. We should look to be present in the moment, ask questions with genuine curiosity, and acknowledge through verbal and body language that what is being said is also being heard.

The benefits of empathy in mediation

Empathy is a part of active listening, a set of skills that allows us to communicate that we are both hearing and understanding what someone is sharing. It also shows genuine interest and concern in the person’s situation. This is particularly important as it builds trust and rapport, a crucial factor in getting parties to open up to us and ‘become vulnerable’ for the good of their relationship. And, of course, the more that they open up, the more information then becomes available to the mediator. We can then clarify facts, meanings, and feelings, and identify key issues and interests at the heart of the dispute.

Showing empathy is also an excellent way to ensure buy-in to the mediation process. If the parties begin to trust the mediator during their individual sessions – if they feel heard and understood, while also remaining confident of the mediator’s impartiality – they are more likely to want to progress into the joint session. This gives the mediation the best possible chance of success: providing an opportunity to bring parties together, to have an honest and open exchange of dialogue, and to come up with an amicable way out of their interpersonal dispute.

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