7 - Communication & Facilitation
There is no single right way to mediate. The right way is the way that works -- and what works will vary from case to case. Your ability to flexibly respond to the needs of the specific situation before you (rather than playing out any personal agenda about how mediation is supposed to work or some cookbook approach to mediation) will dramatically improve your effectiveness as mediator. There is a saying that the most flexible component of a system controls that system. You as mediator want to be the most flexible component of the mediational system as a means of gaining and maintaining control over the process. It is paradoxical, yet true, that we gain control as mediators by being flexible, rather than adhering to or imposing structure.
Encourage yourself to be outfocused to allow yourself to notice whether what you are doing is working. As a mediator, you are sometimes in focused, thinking about what you are going to say or do next, and sometimes outfocused, noticing the impact of your interventions (questioning) and the impact of each of the participant's behavior and statements on each other. Beginning mediators, wanting to do it right, tend to spend too much time focused upon the structure on their notepads or taking notes on the parties' discussion and too little time noticing the parties' truthful immediate responses to the discussion that is taking place. By being outfocused, you give yourself the opportunity to notice, at the earliest possible time, whether what you are doing is working. If what you are doing is not working, or a party is negatively responding to another party, you then give yourself the best opportunity to positively intervene.
Look for Attraction and Resistance Responses
By being outfocused, you give yourself the best opportunity to notice participants' immediate true responses to what is being discussed. Participants will generally have either an attraction or a resistance response to statements or questions offered by you as mediator and to statements made by and to each other. Occasionally, there will be a seemingly neutral response, often when a party is confused, uncertain or desiring additional information. Whatever the parties' responses, and they will often be different, it is important that you as mediator immediately notice these responses to give yourself the greatest chance to make an effective next statement or inquiry.
Sometimes that intervention will be as easy as a timely "or" (which wipes the slate clean and lets the participants know that there is another mutually exclusive alternative about to be offered) or the word "and" (which lets the participants know that the second part of a cumulative option is coming). Sometimes, you may choose to reflect back your impressions of the parties' responses, to check the accuracy of your perception, gain rapport, and/or preempt the development of a more resistant response. By being outfocused, you give yourself the most time possible to so constructively craft your interventions as a mediator. In other words, why wait for a party to turn "red light" when you can intervene at the "yellow light?" With time, you will become so adept at reading parties' responses that they will not even get to "yellow light." You will notice the blinking "don't walk" sign in their attraction or resistance cues. The theory here is that often parties first respond to possibilities, then they figure out the reasons (rationalizations, justifications, etc.) for that response. If you know that a difficult response is being fashioned, it may make sense to preempt that difficulty with you adept facilitative work.