Wearing Your Own Mediator Hat: Part 1

Mara Goldberg Mara Goldberg
Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Marigold Mediation

By Mara Goldberg

How great would it feel to be more confident and skilled in managing conflict you experience with others in your organization?

As a professional mediator, I know that the most effective way to resolve interpersonal conflict is by finding an impartial third party to facilitate dialogue. Mediation provides a safe space to navigate difficult conversations and come up with realistic solutions.

Unfortunately, hiring a mediator is not always an option. So what is the next best thing? Being your own mediator! With a few basic tools and the proper mindset, you can restore trust, heal broken relationships, and increase your productivity.

In this article and the next, I’ll share some techniques from my own mediator tool-kit, so you can wear your own “mediator hat” to build healthy work relationships.

Structure the Conversation
Mediators facilitate a process that helps clients work through tough situations and generate solutions. While a non-mediator may not be trained in this formal process, you can direct the conversation in a similar way:

  1. Start with each person sharing their perspective, and try to listen empathetically and without judgment (more on this below)
  2. Isolate the specific topics around which you are having conflict
  3. Generate ideas that could resolve the conflict
  4. Focus on the ideas you both can agree on, and commit to them.
  5. Follow up in a few weeks to discuss your progress – what’s working, what isn’t, and how you are both feeling.

Focus on Values
One of the most important mediation tools (especially during the first step) is sharing and listening for values. Values are well-intentioned principles that drive our behavior. I recently helped two clients who were in conflict around deadlines and work expectations. One person prioritized finishing work efficiently, while her colleague prioritized the highest possible quality, which obviously takes more time. Until they acknowledged the validity of the other’s values, they were destined to lock horns.

By focusing on how values guide one’s actions rather than ruminating on behaviors, you create a platform for mutual understanding. Even if you still disagree with someone’s actions, acknowledging his or her values opens the door to a more productive conversation.

This approach, however, is not always an easy task, especially when our own values feel threatened. Practice this thought experimentation: Reflect on a hot disagreement you’ve had recently. Identify which of your values were most threatened, as well as which values of the other person were most threatened.

Use Reflective Listening
Many people know about active listening, in which you listen to someone empathetically. In mediation, we take it a step further and call it reflective listening.

The distinction is that in reflective listening we mirror the exact feelings and values back to the other person, so that they feel deeply heard. To wear your mediator hat, try the following steps of reflective listening:

  1. Allow the other person to speak without interrupting (this task hard enough for most of us!)
  2. Summarize what you heard, but not only the facts; play back to the person the emotions and values you observed, which includes what they say and how they say it (i.e., tone of voice, non-verbal expressions, etc.)
  3. Check with the other person to see whether you understood correctly
  4. Ask open-ended questions for clarification
  5. Don’t get discouraged, keep practicing!

This approach may feel unnatural at first. However, reflecting a person’s emotions and values makes them feel understood and allows the conversation to move forward. It also makes it more likely that they will be interested in your own feelings and values.

As you can see, you don’t need to be an expert mediator to wear your own mediator hat. If you practice any of these techniques during your next challenging conversation, you will experience a better outcome.

Stay tuned for our next article for a few more mediator tips!

Mara Goldberg is co-founder and managing partner of Marigold Mediation (http://marigoldmediation.com/), a consulting firm that focuses on building healthy relationships through conflict resolution, coaching and training.