COVID Mediations: Dialogue Tools Set Up Pandemic Mediations for Success

COVID has certainly influenced the subject matter of mediations. Before COVID a family may have required mediation pertaining to the healthcare of a child or an elderly adult, however, they were generally not affected by politics or group affiliation. Before COVID, workplace mediations did not typically discuss medical issues nor require any medical hurdles to come to work. COVID has changed all that. Masking and vaccination have not only been in the news, but have had numerous scientific publications, been all over social media in blogs, vlogs, posts, and memes, and have been dramatically politicized. Now, anyone’s thoughts on the matter are not just an opinion but are likely attached to a long-held affiliation and identification with the corresponding ideology and community. Political and ideology-based positions are more difficult for a person to move away from because they are so critical to that person’s identity and worldview. The position enables the party to be a member of the community and they do not want to lose that connection or cannot withstand a drastic change to their world view. The situation can become quite emotional and volatile.

When there is a volatile or emotional situation, pre-mediation meetings become more critical to the success of the process. Pre-mediation meetings also allow the mediator to see how the participants act and coach them on how to be their most productive self during their time together. The pre-meetings allow the mediator to generate rapport and gain the trust of the participants. Trust is critical in highly emotional mediations. Trust allows the participants to share their true feelings which is critical to discovering their interests. Once the true interests are revealed the mediator can help the participants work towards them. The pre-mediation meetings are integral in developing trust in a highly emotional context. Not only are COVID-based mediations emotional but the high-profile nature of COVID has brought the community into the mediation.

When there is a contentious situation in a community, such as where to add low-income housing, whether to remove statues, or whether to shut down schools, the community can benefit from a community dialogue. The infamy of COVID has made traditional family and workplace mediations look similar to a contentious situation in a community.  As such, the same dialogue techniques used in contentious community situations can benefit family and workplace mediations. These dialogue techniques employed prior to mediation allow the participants to both be educated on the processes and be able to know and trust the mediator. One effective dialogue technique has been taken from Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD) (Gower et al., 2019)

RSD is a process designed to create an environment where personal experiences and values can be shared in a respectful space among people who historically are hindered by distrust, animosity, and divisiveness. It was based on techniques from family therapy to interrupt unproductive communication behaviors. The process allows each person to speak from their own viewpoint while sharing the time equally with other participants in rounds. This allows each side to share their experiences that led them to their beliefs. The process also requires the participants to listen to the experiences shared by the others without commenting on them. The participants are asked to listen and write down any clarifying questions to be asked later. Sharing experiences and background helps bring out the human aspect of each speaker and may generate common ground or even empathy.  It is easy for a person to disagree with your position, but it near impossible to disagree with your experience. The clarifying questions can be asked after everyone has had an opportunity to share and can generate further understanding or empathy. The goal of RSD is to generate understanding of where that person is coming from and providing a change in the outlook of future interaction between those in conflict (Gower et al., 2019).  With this positive outlook for future interactions regarding pandemic-related topics the mediation can proceed with a higher chance of success.

Mediations in the family and workplace that include highly publicized pandemic-related topics have an additional participant of the community in the mediation. The community influence on the participants in these mediations can present a challenge for the mediator. RSD tools can be used as part of pre-mediation meetings to change the outlook of future interactions regarding the pandemic in that family or workplace community and set a more positive and productive tone for the mediation.  

ENDNOTE

Gower, K., Cornelius, L., Rawls, R., & Walker, B. B. (2019, October 23). Reflective structured dialogue: A qualitative thematic analysis. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved January 22, 2022, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/crq.21271 

                        author

Janet Chance

Janet Chance is the owner of Chance Conflict Consulting where she is a mediator, facilitator, conflict consultant, and conflict coach specializing in working with families and workplace conflict. She has a Masters in Dispute Resolution from Pepperdine School of Law. Janet volunteers with the LA City Attorney’s Office to provide… MORE >

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