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Manual > 7 - Communication > Indirect Techniques

Indirect Techniques

Metaphors, analogies, quotes, and normative statements are ways of introducing ideas and options through the back door. In doing so, the mediator is advised to work within participant belief and perceptual systems. The mediator will also want to be outfocused to notice responses from participants. If the idea being introduced is attractive to a participant, you will see the sparkle of attraction in their eyes. If you sense resistance to the idea being indirectly introduced, be flexible and offer another idea, perhaps by beginning with the word "or."

Shift Participants from Battle Metaphor to a Journey Metaphor
Most participants will come to the mediation well steeped in the metaphor of conflict as a battle. Mediators are encouraged to work with the participants to convert this war metaphor into a journey metaphor. The mediator can speak in terms of the mediation having a beginning, middle and end. The mediator may speak in terms of going down the path or down the river together, and in terms of ups and downs, or sometimes encountering rough water.

Utilize Analogies within Participant Maps of Reality
Analogies are best when they are made with reference to an area that the participants know well. For example, to a builder, the mediator may speak in terms of laying a foundation, developing structure, and putting a roof over our heads. For a teacher, the mediator may speak about homework, performance and getting a high grade.

Consider Utilizing Quotes or Speaking Through Another Voice to Introduce Suggestions
Quotes are a way of introducing an idea through another voice. As the listener is simply hearing an idea without the appearance of any imposition, it is possible to convey ideas under participant radar. For example, the mediator might offer having heard that "it is dangerous driving down the road looking in the rear view mirror" or that Oliver Wendell Holmes said that "it is the rare litigant that recognizes their case in court" or that Abraham Lincoln said that "a bad settlement is better than a good trial."

Normative Statements are an Effective Way to Introduce Settlement Options in a Non-Threatening Way
Normative statements speak in terms of other people's experience often using language like "some folks" or "it is not uncommon." Here again we have a means for introducing ideas, allowing the participants to try them on for size, without directly imposing them on the parties. The mediator wants to be sure to note the parties' immediate responses to ideas introduced by normative statements and other indirect means so as to avoid promoting an idea that is not attractive.

Maneuvering or Manipulation?
People are correct to question whether the use of indirect techniques and other powerful communication strategies are desirable maneuvering or undesirable manipulation. Ultimately, each mediator needs to come to terms with how they want to practice. It may be argued that, so long as the end goals are the parties' and nothing is being imposed, indirect techniques are an elegant and effective means of floating new ideas or perspectives. On the other hand, if the techniques are being utilized to steer the participant toward any particular end or to favor a particular party, then that imposition is highly questionable.

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