Workplace mediators are able to influence the way the parties approach the content, interaction and process of their conflict. And they do this by selecgint an intervention from a “continuum of power and influence” which moves from indirect through direct to coercive. In the majority of circumstances, indirect and direct use of mediator power should be enough. By reflect on how they use their power and influence, building their own self awareness and self-control, mediators should select their intervention consciously, rather than simply reacting.
At one end of the continuum are indirect mediator behaviours – prompting, acknowledging or empathising, with open body language and a warm voice. These are high rapport behaviours which encourage trust and, sometimes, a change in behaviour by the party.
In the middle are more direct mediator behaviours – requests, reminders, restructuring the interactions, signposting what needs to be done for parties to achieve their goals. Other direct interventions include requests to refocus, go back, go forwards, reference to any groundrules. But body language is still open and empathy is still shown, even thought the tone of voice is direct and a little cooler. There is always a risk that rapport will fall if mediators become more directive, so mitigate this with strong acknowledgement of feelings, clear signposting of why you are asking for the redirection, and the use of neutral, constructive language.
Mediators do not have the authority to force parties to do things. But there may be times when you need to link strong requests for a change in behaviour to the consequences of not complying with your request. Typically this will take the form of reflecting back the behaviour as neutrally as you can, explaining the effect of the behaviour on the mediation process and on yourself, and stating the change that needs to be made. Sometimes it may be necessary to get parties to explicitly commit to a ground rule or behavioural contract. These behaviours require careful but firm delivery, with assertive voice tone, body language and non-blaming but specific language. Rapport may drop, but it may be worth it if this is needed to keep the parties in the mediation and make progress.