It has been said that "the ideal mediator does nothing but ask questions." While somewhat of an overstatement, there is great truth to this concept, especially if one comes to mediation with a client-centered perspective. If the mediator does nothing but ask questions, then we know who is providing all of the answers -- the participants.
Questions are thus the mediator's primary set of tools for assisting participants to identify and develop what they view to be their best agreement. All questions are not, however, created equal. Different question forms may be utilized to accomplish different purposes in mediation. What follows is a summary, with samples, of many of the most common mediation questioning forms.
help to get things started. They allow you to enter the participant's reality with minimum risk.
"How can I help you?"
"What are the major issues?"
"What concerns do you have?"
Questions seek to obtain facts or opinions. These questions begin with "Who," "What," "Where," "When," "Why" or "How."
"Who is this loan with?"
"What is the interest rate?"
"When is the payment due?"
"Where will you live if you move?"
"Why are you moving?"
"How will you move all of your things?"
Clarifying or Specifying Questions
help to make abstract and general ideas more specific:
"What do you mean by 'everything'?"
"How do you define 'fair'?"
elicit reasons and interests behind positions:
"Why do you think . . . ?"
"What are the bases for your request?"
introduce new ideas, possibilities or options into a discussion:
"Suppose that you tried this option, what do you think would happen?"
"Pretend you could have it any way you desire. How would that be?"
"If Henry was willing to lower the price as you suggest, would you . . . ?"
suggest an idea within the question:
"Given the nature of the problem, is it possible that the two of you might . . . ?"
"Is what I am hearing you say that . . . ?
encourage new ideas:
"Are there other ways to solve this problem?"
"If you were to describe two acceptable options, what would they be?"
encourage expression of ideas and needs:
"What do you think about that, Mary?"
"John, you've been kind of quiet. What are your thoughts?"
bring participants back to consider the core issues:
"Where do we go from here?"
"Well, this has been a good discussion. What do you think it means in terms of our decision-making?
"Getting back to our task of . . . , what are your current thoughts regarding . . . ?"
compare two or more alternatives:
"As between these two options, which do you consider to be more attractive?"
"In thinking about all the possibilities, in what direction do you find yourself inclined to move?"
encourages the making of a decision:
"Have we spent enough time on this issue?"
"Do you want to think some more about this and decide next week?"
"Am I correct that the two of you seem to agree to the following?"
This listing of question forms is not intended to be exhaustive, but, rather, illustrative of the many types of questions available to the mediator. Notice also that some questions are a blending of forms. Ultimately, the issue for the mediator in selecting question forms is "what information am I seeking to discover" and "what is the most effective means of discovering that information?"