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Learning The Language Of Mediation: What The Fly Heard

by Tammy Lenski
January 2010

From the Mediator Tech blog of Tammy Lenski.

Tammy Lenski
when someone is dying booklet“I would love to be a fly on the wall of a real mediation.”

Learning the language of mediation: What the fly heard

Many of my mediation students have said that to me and I don’t think there’s a mediation trainer or professor alive who hasn’t heard something similar – for good reason.

Notes mediator and trainer (and one of the trainers I first took Basic Mediation from 14 years ago) Sandi Adams, “I have heard many newly trained or beginning mediators ask to observe or listen to ‘a real mediation’ so they might get a better understanding of what exactly the mediator does and says to assist parties in a session. ‘How do you learn mediator-speak?’ they ask.” Roleplays only get you so far.

Opportunities to observe highly skilled, seasoned mediators in action are rare for fledgling mediators, though. So in 1998, Sandi compiled a concise book of examples from her own years of practice – examples of what a mediator might say in each stage of the mediation, in response to typical dilemmas and needs in a session, in response to tricky moments, and to do our work of supporting the parties, helping them negotiate, and attending to the process.

I’ve handed out print copies of What the Fly Heard: What Mediators Say Behind Closed Doors for many years in my mediation trainings. It’s not available in print at this time, but since I get multiple requests each month from mediators who want to observe my sessions or would like advice about how to say something, I approached Sandi about making an e-book version available here. She graciously agreed and I’m pleased to announce it’s now available from me (purchase link is at foot of this article).

The book has nine chapters with examples of mediator language that’s helpful – and language to avoid:

  1. Listening in on the Mediator’s Opening Statement
  2. Things Mediators Say to Clarify Information and Parties’ Interests
  3. Flies in the Ointment – Sticky Comments to Avoid
  4. Eavesdropping on Issue Checklist and Agenda Setting
  5. Mediator-Speak During the Negotiation Stage
  6. You Could Get Burnt – Don’t Fly Near These
  7. Say What? Finalizing Any Agreements and Agreement Writing
  8. Closing Statement Statements
  9. Flypaper – Don’t Get Caught in These Traps

About Sandi Adams

Sandi AdamsSandi Adams, MSCM, has been working in the field of conflict resolution since 1982. Her work includes providing direct services of mediation, facilitation, conflict coaching, and conflict resolution, mediation, negotiation, and facilitation trainings. She is also an ADR Advisor for FEMA, and is on the roster for mediating ADA complaint cases.

Previously, she was director of the Mediation Training Program at Woodbury College in Montpelier, VT and Friends Conflict Resolution Services in Philadelphia, PA, and taught at University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

She holds an M.S. in Conflict Management from George Mason University, has been an associate editor of Peacemaking in Your Neighborhood: Mediator’s Handbook, 2nd ed., and has published articles in a number of journals and magazines.

Purchase What the Fly Heard: What Mediators Say Behind Closed Doors here.


Dr. Tammy Lenski helps people resolve conflict in ongoing business and personal relationships and bring their "A" game to difficult conversations. Since founding her NH-based conflict resolution firm Myriaccord LLC in 1997, Tammy has worked with individuals and organizations worldwide as a master mediator, executive coach, speaker, and educator. Author of the award-winning book, Making Mediation Your Day Job, she recently received the Association for Conflict Resolution’s prestigious Mary Parker Follett award for innovative and pioneering work in her field. Her second book, The Conflict Pivot, was released in 2014.


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