The Art of Effective Interviewing

Learning to conduct an effective interview is one of the key techniques for resolving conflict. It creates rapport and conveys understanding. It will often revealing hidden “drivers” that underlie the conflict. For example, when asking about a motor vehicle accident in which liability is uncertain, the Plaintiff may reveal that she was scared when she saw the Police behind her (who witnessed the accident) because she was using the cell phone to call for results on a pregnancy test. She never saw the traffic light, but firmly believed it was green when she entered the accident–since it was green a second or two later when the collision occurred.

Mediation trainers teach new mediators to ask open-ended questions–something that is discouraged in legal practice! Law students are emphatically trained never to ask open ended questions. As a consequence, IMHO (in my humble opinion), too few lawyers have taken the opportunity to really get to know their client’s own stories.

The probing, personal kind of questions, such as: “Tell me more about that” and “How did you feel when it happened?” may serve the mediator well in understanding each disputant and ultimately in unlocking creative solutions which will address the very concrete issues and make a more complete resolution occur.

In acquiring this skill, there is secondary benefit to a business person, too. It makes networking kind of second nature. It is easy for me to walk into a room and learn something personal or important from any individual whom I engage in conversation. My children have teased me all of my life because I have a way of “taking the deposition” of friends and family: but mine is a friendly inquisition, not a harsh cross-examination.

Ultimately, the greatest benefit to effective interviewing is that I am privy to the most fascinating life stories! It is, every day, a privilege to be on the listening end of folks–both ordinary and extraordinary.


Jan Frankel Schau

Attorney Jan Frankel Schau is a highly skilled neutral, engaged in full-time dispute resolution. Following a successful career spanning two decades in litigation, she has mediated over 700 cases for satisfied clients. Ms. Schau understands the nuances of trial and settlement practice as well as client relations and balancing the… MORE >

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