I recently read an interesting article in one of the mediation blogs I follow. In that article was a phrase that caught my attention, which reads, in part, “when parties agree to mediate, the search for solutions is not a sign of weakness”. This phrase brought home in a simple way the challenge all mediators face.
Once you have done this a time or two you discover several ways to get things started so that each side talks about the issues that brought them to the table that day. The challenge, though, is getting them to ask the kind of questions they need to ask of the other party that will lead them away from an entrenched defense of their point of view.
In order to explore alternatives the parties need to reach a level of confidence that allows the parties to begin the examination of alternatives. They can only do that by becoming curious about/interest in the other party’s point of view.
A good mediator prepares the parties for the mediation by setting the stage, and in doing so gets the parties to buy into small agreements about the process that will be used. These small agreements occur where the mediator talks about mundane things such as the mechanics of the mediation, his or her role, the expectation of good manners and courtesy, and other such things. During this process, the mediator also explains that this is “their” mediation, and they control the outcome.
At this point the mediator also reminds them in a deliberately low-key manner that they will be the negotiators, they will be the authors of the final agreement, and at that point encourages them to ask questions after each side has stated the reasons for being there.
In my mediations I take several opportunities to make the parties comfortable with the idea of asking questions so that when the parties actually begin to engage each other so that, as mediator I can, where appropriate, encourage the pursuit of questions intended to invite an exploration of solutions without the parties seeing that as a threat or sign of weakness.
In other parts of my business I talk about the importance of building a framework from which questions can be asked and explored. I also emphasize why asking questions is important in my book The Monday Morning Checklist, A Guide for Experienced Leaders in a Busy World. The book is available through Amazon at: http://amzn.to/2f08DIH.