Mediation (3)

In my last blog I discussed the importance of good communication skills in mediation,
emphasising language proficiency (click here). However, language proficiency is only one aspect of good communication – albeit an important one – and any deficiencies in this area can be ameliorated by:

  • a good opening statement
  • awareness of the possibility for linguistic and cultural misunderstanding and
  • the use of the mediator’s “skill-kit” LARSQ (Australian acronym for: Listening;
    Acknowledging; Reframing; Summarising; Questioning (I myself would add
    Paraphrasing, as I do not agree that summarising is the same as paraphrasing) or more generally referred to as active listening.

These are all skills that can be learnt and improved through practice.

A good opening statement
The purpose of a mediator’s opening statement is well known: it allows the mediator to
explain the mediation process; lays down the ground-rules for the mediation; deals with logistics etc. It is also an opportunity for the mediator to introduce himself to the parties, establish trust and raise any issues that may be important in the mediation. For an
extensive and thorough opening statement (which unfortunately excludes a discussion about language) click here.

Awareness of the possibility for linguistic and cultural misunderstanding
In international mediations a discussion on language is useful. It allows the mediator to
assure the parties that he will seek clarification and verification of what is being said thereby ensuring that misunderstandings are kept to a minimum.

Active listening
Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others. Focus and
concentration are needed to fully and accurately understand what is being said. Listening with attention and respect shows that what a person is saying is important. It is an
effective technique for a mediator to develop rapport, extract narratives and explore the underlying interests of the parties. FBI negotiator Chris Voss refers to active listening as “deep listening”. For a very insightful interview with Chris Voss on the importance of active listening and open ended questions for successful negotiations, click here.

Active listening involves, among other things, reflecting back what is being said
(summarising and paraphrasing) and also changing the thinking of the parties by
reframing a dispute in such a manner that it enables the parties to move to a position where negotiation is possible. So what is the difference between paraphrasing and
reframing? Look at the following statements:

  • Party A:     “ You’re just trying to get rid of me!”
  • Mediator: “You think he’s going to fire you?” or “You think he wishes to terminate your employment?”
  • Mediator: “Your job is important to you?”

The last statement is the reframe. It moves the discussion from the negative and fearful
assumption of one party to a discussion of the job and why it is important, paving the way for a new discussion about the job and how that relates to the dispute. The second
sentences paraphrase what is said in the first sentence.

Reframing is a difficult, but in mediation terms, very important skill to master. I think
Albert Einstein hit it on the head when he said: ‘You can’t solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it.”