Mediation Best Practices … not Ground Rules

September 8th, 2014

In a mediator’s opening statement to clients, often the subject of “ground rules” comes up – parameters for behavior befitting a participant to mediation.   And often it takes the form of negative instruction – “we will refrain from name-calling or blaming” … “please don’t interrupt, you will get your turn to speak”.  I never took to the concept very well, of instructing adults on what not to do.  Some mediators ask their clients if they have any ground rules of their own, a good thing, if it weren’t for those 2 words.

Escher Transformation off the page
I do not lay ‘ground rules’. 
First, I prefer to speak to the highest parts of ourselves.  And, as I am of the philosophy that as we engage in mediation, we are promoting, sharing and hopefully modeling resourceful behaviour, I prefer to respectfully share best practices rather than ground rules … practices that bring out the best in us as speakers, listeners and problem-solvers.   Clients get these in advance, and we review them when we first meet, in case they need clarification.

So here are Spectra’s 10 Best Practices for Participants in a Mediation:

1         This is a learning conversation.  And a working conversation.  Please come to the table with open ears and a good dose of curiosity and resolve to solve problems together.  Listen as if you are hearing something for the first time and learning something new, even if you think you’ve heard it before.

2         Practice deep listening.  Concentrate on what’s being said, and not what you are itching to say.  If you wish to insert a thought, signal.  If there is no opening given by the speaker right then, jot down keywords on paper and direct your thoughts fully back to them.

3         Reflect back for understanding.  Each person has come here to be heard and understood.  Reflecting back what someone has said for clarity and understanding ensures that this happens. Sometimes the Mediator will do this.  Sometimes you will be asked to.  The ability to do this depends on #2, deep listening.

4         Be resourceful and creative.  We are here to solve shared problems.  Brainstorm fearlessly.   Commitment to solutions comes later.

5         Suspend judgment.  In order to feel free to be resourceful and creative, we leave judgment to a later stage.  Nothing’s final till it’s final, so think in or out of the box while you can.

6         Silence is OK – when speaking or listening.  Not all gaps have to be filled.  It’s sometimes in the spaces that key discoveries are made.  Respect them, and use them liberally.

7         Emotions are OK, so long as you own them.  Express your disappointment, hopes, even anger… in a way that will be heard.  We’ll discover what it all means together.

8         Speak with passion and purpose, but know that your statements are not truth – they are your truth, and that will be respected.  Make observations.  Say how something made you feel or how it appeared to you.

9         Ask great questions.  They’re even better than statements.  We’ll discover some together.

10     Say one good thing about the other party at some time in the mediation.  Express appreciation for good listening, honesty, effort, understanding, courage, or something they have done well.  It will open doors like nothing else.

With best practices, I believe we are teaching resourceful behavior and not cementing or censuring bad.  We are evolving communication and moving ourselves forward.  We are future-focused and not dwelling on habit or blame.  With best practices, we are setting a new bar and building a new toolkit of skills and awareness.

Through best practices – we get to best solutions.

*Illustration:  MC Escher

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