Wearing Your Own Mediator Hat: Part 2

By Mara Goldberg

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

Since my last article, perhaps you have practiced some of the mediation techniques I provided: Structuring the conversation, focusing on values, and practicing reflective listening.

Now, it’s time to take your mediation game to another level. I hope you are ready!

Observe from the Outside
During mediation sessions, I constantly observe how attached each person is to their own story. No matter what the conflict, each person is convinced that his or her own grievances are the only ones that matter and that he or she is the victim.

To wear your own mediator hat, it is important to try to separate yourself from these self-serving stories. While it might be impossible to be completely neutral like a mediator, try this approach: Put yourself in the position of an external party and tell the story of the conflict from an outside vantage point.

This can be challenging when a conflict is especially emotional. Yet taking a brief step away from the conflict gives us the mental space we need to see the full picture, including where the other person is coming from. It also allows us to think outside the box for solutions, take responsibility for our own contributions, and facilitate a productive conversation.

Promote Balanced Participation
Mediators are careful to make sure their clients participate equally. There are a few ways mediators achieve this:

  • If someone is not sharing, mediators ask questions to include him or her. Conversely, if someone is dominating the conversation, mediators respectfully interject and provide observations
  • When brainstorming solutions, mediators make sure all participants contribute ideas
  • If there is a power imbalance, mediators create an environment for the less powerful to feel safe and open

So how do you adapt these techniques when you are facilitating your own conversation and do not have a mediator?

  • Convey curiosity and ask open-ended questions
  • Do not only focus on yourself and your own struggles
  • Assess and express how you have contributed to the situation
  • Try to ensure there is a 50/50 balance in talking and listening

"Right vs. Wrong" is… well, Wrong
In the workplace, wanting to "win" a conflict is common, but counterproductive. Even if you and a colleague disagree, it is important to remember that you are not adversaries when the ultimate goal is the organization’s success.

People frequently come to their first mediation session with an attitude that suggests, "I’m right, she’s wrong." This immediately closes the door to curiosity and creativity and instead fosters a defensive and hostile atmosphere.

Rather than try to prove you are right, it is more effective to go into the situation as a problem solver. This does not mean avoiding emotional factors. In fact, venting is the first step of the mediation process and is crucial for healing. Yet once both parties feel their emotions have been heard and validated, it is time to brainstorm solutions that work for everyone and the organization, not just ones that make you the "winner."

Now that you know what it takes to wear your own mediator hat, it’s time to practice. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hit a home run on your first tries; the important thing is to practice with an intention to heal and build trust.

By-line: Mara Goldberg is co-founder and managing partner of Marigold Mediation, a consulting firm that focuses on building healthy relationships through conflict resolution, coaching, and training.