Mediators are all too familiar with the quote above because their very livelihood depends on miscommunication!
In resolving disputes professional mediators need to understand, facilitate and manage the flow of communication between parties. Failure to do so often affects the effectiveness of the process and this heavily impacts the party’s ability to participate.
Due to the confidential nature of mediation it is hard for the mediator to actually realise the impact of his or her communication techniques during the mediation. Feedback from parties may also not be clear enough to pinpoint this. Common problems often attributed with poor communication techniques in mediation include:
-Longwinded mediation journeys which often result in impasse
-Complaints that the mediator was not firm/ assertive enough
-Parties tend to feel they did not have ample opportunity to participate due to the other party dominating the process
How can mediators tune their communication skills to conflict situations? A possible solution may be to have a linguistic insight as to how human behaviour shapes conversation. By this I refer to basic principles of Conversational Analysis as identified by linguistic experts.
Conversational Analysis(CA) studies the way in which human actions are manifested through talk/language. According to Seedhouse there are key principles which guide the way people interact through language. In order to apply basic fundamentals in CA to conversations a mediator should:
-Record: Mentally note issues parties seem to emphasize and address this where relevant
-Transcribe: Instead of frequent interventions try noting down important points to refer to at appropriate intervals
-Refrain from selecting topics to focus on, instead let the parties direct the course of their dialogue
-Avoid assumptions use clarifying language to break down vague references and use probing questions to guide this
-Do not pre-determine what parties may be hinting at during their dialogue or individual storytelling sessions i.e. completing sentences or offering suggestions when parties struggle to find appropriate responses
It is natural to assume a common sense approach to interpersonal communications due to our individual backgrounds and language styles, however this can sometimes hinder our ability to truly diagnose basic communication cues.
If you would like to learn more about how communication affects the way individuals interact and how this can be used in conflict management, The Professional Mediators’ Association is hosting a Masterclass on applying basic communication theory to your mediation practice. Click here to find out more
Sourdin,Tania, “Poor Quality Mediation- A System Failure?”(2010).Mediation. Paper 3 http://www.civiljustice.info/med/3
Seedhouse, P. (2004). Conversation analysis methodology. Language Learning, 54, 1-54.