A mediator's introspection

A mediator’s introspection

A mediator's preoccupation is at all times directed outside of her, about how to resolve impasse, how to get at the underlying interest, what is the party’s motivation to say so, what new options could be generated, etc. We seldom direct attention to ourselves. Daniel Bowling and David Hoffman raise the question, how the personal qualities of the mediator impact the process of conflict resolution and bring out an anthology of essays of several renowned mediators across the world how they matter. I have heard some mediators telling me about how they have become better listeners to their spouses’ woes; how they are measured in their responses to provocative statements. All this is true. If mediation session has refined us imperceptibly, that is seamlessly, without so much consciously acquiring them,but letting them add themselves in layers, it is great. Is there also not a need for constant personal audit? How we need to constantly introspect to ensure that we affect the parties in a positive way as they affect us.


Even a judgmental thought compromises neutrality

As a lawyer in the initial days of practice,if a client makes a narration of his case, the mind will run parallelly on what part of his narration will be accepted by court's yardstick of evidentiary value, what would require to be puffed up, what require not to be stated and soon. As a judge later, the constant preoccupation was, which side was correct;which was wrong; what is true and what is false. As a mediator, your mind is at all times occupied by thoughts like, 'oh, why can she not accept this proposal'; 'how unreasonable she is'; 'why is he exaggerating'. That is, you keep suppressing the judgmental emotions but in the way, we join the conversations, we mildly give vent to our feelings to parties that they take the hint and exclaim to themselves, 'oh, he is not liking what i said, he seems to support what she said' and so on. If the parties feel at any time that you have judged them in some way, all the talk about neutrality is lost.


The nine desirable areas for self-improvement

Jonathan Reitman, a renowned mediator of international repute who has worked on inter-country disputes in middle east and in Europe discusses 9 qualities that we must imbibe:


(i) Genuine curiosity - it is not genuine if it is a technique. The curiosity begins by asking open ended questions. Even wonder why somethings are so important to them; wanting to know not just what mattered to them but why.  


(ii) Finding the place of love in your heart:  Being angry about the person's stand; feel like saying, what a jerk. Recently, i found in the course of conversation that the lawyer who was representing the party was getting hyper technical; was sarcastic. Felt that he was quite a pain in the neck. I spoke about this to my friend and she said, ‘oh, he is defending the turf, is he not?Should he not be stoutly defending his client's position?’ A mediator must find a way to deeply value what each party brings to table. Take the worth of the person and express it to the person. The party feels truly heard and valued.  


(iii) doing the footwork and letting go of the outcome: We identify the end result as a settlement which is a success.It is essential to know that there are many reasons why a case does not settle;only few them have to do with our skills as mediators. If we have made an environment that is conducive for settlement and genuinely worked a creative process, you have to truly let go of the result

(iv) being the eye of the storm: When tempers rise, and when someone calls you unfair, adopt a posture that is welcoming; don't cross your arms. It is fine to keep your hands by the sides and look vulnerable. The ideal moment is to sense the rising emotions and diffuse it at that situation. If not, remain calm. If the anger is at you,think, that this is the teaching moment. Employ all your active listening and reflective skills;


(v) the ability to compartmentalise:  Managing your thoughts as they carry several layers running simultaneously. Have you seen picture in picture? It is something like that. If some other thought occurs to you at the same time,allow it to go in another track without letting it cut the stream of thought generated by what you are hearing in the room. If you cultivate multiple layers, probably, you will be able to generate multiple options. The party will discuss the different layers of his own case that will also disclose the underlying interest. The party must feel safe to tell you of what lies in the deepest recess of his mind.  


(vi) honour the history of the conflict:How it all started is always a relevant conversation. Never shut out the enthusiasm of any party to narrate the beginning of the conflict. How we have come here always has a strong connection to how it all started.


(vii) persistence and optimism:Perhaps, the parties themselves will tell you that this case will not settle.As mediators, we are perhaps the only one who believe that settlement is possible. Persistent optimism is not your action to push for a settlement. Stay eager and positive, the party will probably tell you, ‘ok, i am not sure, if this will work, but if you say this, i am willing to consider this as an agenda for discussion.’


(viii) lateral thinking: Pick up words unsaid. Identify why a person behaves the way he does. De Bono has left a large volume of literature and practice on this topic. In mediation, try to unbundle the party's own fears, make her see a larger picture.

Do not see all issues on binary terms, this is right; that is wrong. Think of what will work; what is acceptable. A skilled thinker does not hasten to prove the other person wrong he would gently explore why the other person holds that view. It is like a haiku poem. It proceeds along an even axis; It suddenly takes off to another axis

In the twilight rain

these brilliant-hued hibiscus -

A lovely sunset.

Or, like a short story. There is a twist in the tail.


(ix) courage. Say some thing of what your inner voice wants you to say but what you did not say. To tell a joke or narrate a story. Some times, if i do not say it, it is because, i do not have the courage.


Bowling and Hoffman underscore the need to bean integrated person: Be an integrated mediator. Like a doctor who does not merely see the reports but looks at the patient, elicit his clinical history, a mediator works in similar ways, taking the temperature of the room and the parties in it; diagnosing the cause of their dispute and their difficulties in resolving it, and trying to unlock the healing potential present in the parties themselves. “To practice mediation in this way is both a task of both mind and heart. It requires the mediator to integrate, in his or her relationship with the parties and their dispute, both cool detachment and profound engagement".


Surfaces can be seen but our depths must be interpreted. Go on a journey of self enquiry. Our own self improvement will surely impact mediation outcomes also.


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