Great article -
In my trainings for both beginner and advanced mediators I stress what has been called the Ability to Not Understand. It is known in educational/learning settings as well as psychological settings, and I think it has great value in mediation. Just when we think we understand a party is the time when we need to give ourselves permission to not understand - to ask that next question that probes deeper, then the next and the next always deeper.
Once we understand a party's comment we make it our own rather than asking the next question or two or three that allows them to reflect on what it means to them and perhaps develop within themselves a greater understanding of what it means within the context of the conflict. Anytime a mediator thinks they understand, that is the time to ask a question as if we do not understand. ‘So you say she is difficult to get along with, what does that mean to you?’
When we do that we fulfill our role to keep track of where the mediation IS rather than where the mediation is going.
Great - thanks!
Katherine , UK firstname.lastname@example.org 08/25/10
Great article. When training I have sometimes used the phrase "dumb mediator" but you develop the concept much further so thank you! I'm in the process of writing an article on how success is defined in mediation and touch on training implications so this was very relevant. I particularly appreciate the point you make about just "being" with the parties and encouraging them to show their humanity - I agree that that's when the potential of mediation really comes to fruition.
Phillip , Dunedin NZ 08/16/10
Thank you Michael. Years ago when working in Industrial relations as an advocate I first experienced a mediator who adopted this approach. It has an immediated and significant effect in intense labour disputes. I learned then that an approach of declared ignorance associated with attentive listening and questioning begets empathy.
David Bogan, Sydney email@example.com 08/11/10
Hello Michael, was great to read your article and find another adherent of "unlearning." I first came accross this wonderful terminology in the writings of Professor Luis Diaz who, as well as being a great thinker and mediator, also believes in the simplicity of mediation and of mediators being 'real'. The other learning I have gained is that I believe it is the irreducibility of 'fairness' rather than 'freedom' that underpins the process. If you are looking for a teaching tool based on these premises have a look at "What's Keeping You Awake at Night?" published by Harper Collins. It's my attempt to try and get mediation back to the organic base from which it grew.