Mediation Techniques and The Art of Listening

One of the most important mediation techniques is helping the parties explore privately in greater depth the likely consequences of their different choices.

Sometimes the issue is being presented by one party to another in terms of Carrots and Sticks: if you agree with what we want, something nice will happen. If you don’t, expect something bad.

This seemingly banal Carrot/Stick paradigm is fraught with psychological complexity.

What if the party offered carrots does not in fact like or need such carrots? Or they are too far away to be interesting? Or the carrot looks a bit scraggy? Or the party thinks that even if s/he responds as requested s/he won’t ever get that carrot?

What if the person threatened with the stick believes s/he can withstand pain for longer than the person wielding the stick is able or willing to deliver said pain? What if the stick is not as strong as it looks? Or is too far away to be scary? Or if the person threatened is scheming to hit back with an even bigger stick of his/her own?

In other words, in any mediation or negotiation there is the power/influence you actually have. There is the power/influence you think you have (note that you may underestimate or overestimate this). And there is the power/influence the other side thinks you have. These may well not be the same thing.

Our approach is all about helping parties in a mediation or a problem step back from crude ‘either/or’ negotiating approaches and instead look closely at the all-important psychological context. How to be personally convincing in a difficult negotiation, the more so when all concerned are clever, creative people?

This involves careful light-touch questioning – and careful listening. What is the other party really saying? What is the other party saying when it is not speaking? What do you think is being said about issue X when the other side is insisting on issue Y?

How best to listen – and to show that you are listening?

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