For parties in mediation to reach an effective and sustainable agreement, they need to experience a change in their thinking about their conflict. But to be able to ask mediation questions that achieve this shift, we mediators need to know the influencing factors involved in the amount and type of information that our brain absorbs. This is described in this complimentary film: Module 1a: Creating the Context for a Paradigm Shift – https://www.osullivansolutions.ie/mediation-questions-training/live-online-mediation-questions-training/
A shift in a mediation party’s thinking and approach is achieved when they gain new information and insight that leads them to look at their conflict from a different perspective. The way to bring in new information, to clarify existing information and to create insight for the parties is by asking powerful mediation questions gained from advanced level mediation training which delivers techniques to discover the thought process of parties after which you ask mediation questions to facilitate them to think about their thought process and then gain increased insight.
Is there an advanced mediation model for asking great mediation questions or a formula I could use to develop a question?
The S Questions Model is introduced and developed in the book authored by Gerry O’Sullivan – ‘The Mediator’s Toolkit: Formulating and Asking Questions for Successful Outcomes’.
This S Questions Model is designed to identify and explore information that specifically creates new insight for the parties to shift their thinking about the conflict. The model is based on neuroscientific research and on psychological concepts to ensure that the mediation questions asked are explorative, while remaining safe.
A shift in a mediation party’s thinking and approach is achieved when they gain new information and insight that leads them to look at their conflict from a different perspective. The way to bring in new information, to clarify existing information and to create insight for the parties is by asking powerful mediation questions gained from advanced level mediation training which delivers techniques to discover the thought flow process of parties after which you ask mediation questions to facilitate them to develop their thought process further and then gain increased insight.
The ‘S’ Questions Model is developed in the book: ‘The Mediator’s Toolkit: Formulating and Asking Questions for Successful Outcomes’. This model is designed to house a toolkit of advanced mediation training questions that can be asked during a mediation process. This book demonstrates the theory behind each mediation question type, their purpose, how they work, when they are used and how they are built and applied during a mediation process.
There are four dimensions of mediation questions in the S Questions Model:
• S1: Subject Matter Dimension of questions
• S2: Structure Dimension of questions
• S3: Seeking Information Dimension of questions
• S4: Shift Thinking Dimension of questions
The book: The Mediator’s Toolkit: Formulating and Asking Questions for Successful Outcomes concentrates on the S4 Shift Thinking Questions and are brought alive and explored in detail in the mediator’s advanced online mediation training delivered by Gerry O’Sullivan as well as in the self-paced learning series of videos available.
This training includes 11 filmed mediation videos to demonstrate the application of the theory to practice.
The best tip for posing powerful mediation questions is to ask questions about the words you are hearing a party say! It is a basic, simple technique, but really effective as you are following a person’s thought flow track as they are composing and verbalising what they wish to say.
This will help to make unconscious thinking process conscious, but before asking questions you need to reflect back, succinctly, the words used by the party.
Then asking simple mediation questions about the words used by a party can often be the most powerful mediation questions that you can ask as you are supporting them to develop their thought process, whilst also ensuring the other mediation party is hearing. You cannot achieve a shift in the perspectives of mediation parties unless you first know what they are thinking.
Online mediation course: https://www.osullivansolutions.ie/
Training is provided by OSullivan Solutions. This mediation course includes roleplayed mediation films and exercises and is delivered by the author of ‘The Mediator’s Toolkit: Formulating and Asking Questions for Successful Outcomes’, Gerry O’Sullivan. osullivansolutions.ie
This training is packed with learning resources and is offered through three formats:
1. As a live zoom training package over four half-days in a two-week period:
2. As a self-paced learning resource package with a series of videos:
3. As an In-person learning package:
One of my mediation parties does not want to engage in the mediation process with the other party, what do I do?
Remember the importance of the mediation principles of voluntariness and self-determination and ensure that the mediation party is aware that you champion these core principles. A mediator’s body language needs to portray their adherence to these mediation principles.
Ask the party if they would like to hear more about the mediation process? If so, it really helps a party to know that they can leave the mediation process at any stage they wish, without needing to give any explanation as to their reasons for taking this step.
Ask what are their main concerns about engaging in the mediation process? Do they need to bring a support person? Assure them that our role as mediators is to be impartial and to create a safe process for them.
For me, once a party knows they can leave at any of the stages this has always resulted in a party agreeing to engage in the mediation, one step at a time, knowing they can leave whenever they wish, without giving a reason.
If you are stuck during a mediation and don’t know what to do next, it is very helpful for a mediator to do a summary of what parties have said so far during a mediation. Delivering this summary will help them to know that they have been heard and are important and this will help them to relax a little more. And the additional value for a mediator is that when they do this summary, they will be engaging their pre-frontal cortex in order to compose and deliver it. This is where our logical and rational thinking is done. A mediator will then be able to think more clearly as to what they need to do next.
Yes, there are many samples of advanced mediation questions to be used in particular mediation scenarios, as well as the theory behind the formulation of mediation questions.
One small example from The S Questions Model would be the use of the S4: Distinction & Difference Questions. These questions bring clarity, relevance, measurement, boundary and a different perspective to conflict issues. Asking questions that explore the distinctions and differences in how parties are thinking and that create distinctions between the various facets of a conflict, support mediation disputants to think logically and incisively.
There are a range of mediation question categories in the model outlined in ‘The Mediator’s Toolkit: Formulating and Asking Questions for Successful Outcomes‘: questions to gather more information and to clarify existing information; questions on how to get from positions to underlying interests and to the core of the conflict; questions on shifting perspectives; mediation questions on breaking impasse etc.
Have a look at this complimentary film to understand more about what happens in our brain if we are feeling vulnerable or frightened:
Then scroll down to see the film titled:
‘Module 1a The Context for Creating a Paradigm Shift’
We argue about who we are.
Using the technique of ‘signposting’ is very helpful for managing interruptions by mediation parties. In many cases they are anxious that they will not get the opportunity to say all that they wish to say. A mediator needs to ‘signpost’ to the parties what they are going to do next by saying something like:
- ‘I would like to hear from each of you and Mary, I will ask you first what has been going on for you and then I will ask you the same question, John. I would like each of you to really listen to each other and if you feel like interrupting, please hold it but, don’t worry, as I will give both of you all the time you need to say whatever is going on for you too.
This settles the parties and prevents them entering into amygdala hijack.
When facilitating parties to get to underlying interests, it is not so much that you need to ask a very powerful underlying interests mediation question of them, but that you ask a simple mediation question about that which matters to them. The key areas about which to ask the best mediation questions are values or beliefs, worries, concerns, impact and any emotions that arise for them. If their sense of status, certainty, or autonomy has been affected, if they feel that something is not fair or if their connection with others has been impacted, these are all warnings that something deep has been impacted and this is where a mediator needs to ask exploratory questions, gently.
This is demonstrated in the complimentary Video: Getting to Underlying Interests – a filmed roleplay film demonstrating mediation skills and asking questions. Go to: https://www.osullivansolutions.ie/ and scroll to the footer of the page.
Further online mediation training with the mediation author, Gerry O’Sullivan, on getting past positions to underlying interests is available either through live Online mediation training through Zoom or as a Self-Paced video series.
This link below will take you to a demonstration of a roleplayed mediation done in 2013 which demonstrates how asking simple questions, about the topics I have just outlined in the section above, can have a powerful mediation outcome.
More intense and powerful mediation training is available on http:/www.osullivansolutions.ie.
Working on the theory that information absorbed by the brain can be seriously deficient and distorted, and that the emotions that arise for us when we are in conflict can also influence the information that our brain absorbs, necessitates that we listen to parties intensely and then ask a lot of mediation questions about what we hear, about what we know, about what we don’t know and what we don’t know we don’t know. This brings more information into the mediation process that will help to increase mutual understanding.
Asking some simple mediation questions such as:
- ‘What is it that I do not know or don’t understand yet?’
- ‘What questions could I ask each of you that will help you get your perspective across to the other party?’
- ‘What questions could I ask of the other that might help you understand them more?’
But the main mediation intervention to use to increase understanding between parties is to explore each of their underlying interests. These mediation questions can be tested by a mediator at a separate private or caucus meeting first to ascertain if it is safe to ask them at a joint mediation session.
Asking Journey of Inference questions or Underlying Interests questions based on The ‘S’ Questions Model as demonstrated during online mediator training delivered by Gerry O’Sullivan will facilitate the creation of mutual understanding between mediation disputants:
This training includes 11 roleplayed mediation films to demonstrate the application of the theory to practice.
During a mediation an impasse can be reached when neither mediation disputant is willing to compromise any further on an issue. When parties reach impasse, they’re likely to regard it as the end of any possible settlement.
At this stage it is important to check if all information is on the table? Is there anything that a party still needs to say? Have you explored the underlying interests of parties? Having a separate private or caucus mediation meeting with each of the parties may help to identify responses to these questions. Asking the questions: ‘What could be blocking you or blocking the other party from moving forward in the mediation?’ ‘Is there anything that the other party might need to hear that will help them to understand your perspective more?
Asking BATNA/WATNA/MLATNA questions is an effective way of facilitating a party to think through their options.
e.g. ‘What is the Best/Worst/Most Likely Alternative to a Negotiated Solution?’
Refer to the book: ‘The Mediator’s Toolkit: Formulating and Asking Questions for Successful Outcomes’. Pages 223, 224. https://www.osullivansolutions.ie/who-i-am/my-book/
How can I make sure that I don’t ask a question in a partial way that could result in a party becoming angry?
Remaining impartial and displaying appropriate body language when asking mediation questions is crucial, especially if the questions are being asked of the ‘complained against’?
But there are mediation techniques that can be used to indicate to the parties that you are acting impartially and here are a few examples of the technique:
- Signpost to the parties first that you are going to ask both of them the next question.
- Reflect back to the party what you heard, using ‘reporting’ language, before asking the question.
- Use the ‘passive voice’ rather than the ‘active voice’ when asking questions.
- Use an approach of curiosity rather than investigation.
- However, a display of anger from a party can be a welcome opportunity for a mediator as it indicates there is something going on at the core of the conflict that has not been fully voiced yet. The words used by the party can then form the basis for some gentle exploratory questions to bring out key information. If the words are toxic, they need to be detoxed, while leaving the truth in.
There are many more tips for asking mediation questions in an impartial manner in Chapter 4 of ‘The Mediator’s Toolkit: Formulating and Asking Questions for Successful Outcomes’
The amygdala is the brain’s threat detector. Learn more about an amygdala hijack and what happens in the brain when a party in mediaton is angry in this complimentary video:
Then scroll down the page to see the film titled: Module 1a The Context for Creating a Paradigm Shift
The first thing a mediator needs to do is to hold a private or caucus meeting if this comes up at a joint session. State that the mediation process is voluntary and that they can leave any time they wish to do so.
Ask permission to ask some questions and state that these questions are not designed to persuade them to stay, but merely to faciliate them to make an informed choice. Allow them to vent whatever emotions are coming up for them. You can then gently explore what it is like for them to be in mediation, what is concerning them about the process, what their worries might be about how the process is being managed and what their concerns are about any potential mediation agreement or settlement?
This gives a mediation participant the opportunity to voice their emotions and concerns so that they are then able to think rationally rather than emotionally about their decision to remain in the mediation process, or not. Asking BATNA/MLATNA/WATNA questions will support them to decide. These questions are in the last chapter of ‘‘.
If there is no more information or insight to be gained, if parties have finished expressing their emotions and venting and if the core of the conflict has been reached, then moving to Future Focus questions will serve to take the parties out of the negative narrative and move to a new narrative. This changes their possible negative state to a more positive state from which they will be able to think more logically
These Future Focus questions are covered in the last chapter of ‘The Mediator’s Toolkit: Formulating and Asking Questions for Successful Outcomes‘.
They are also covered in the online mediation training offered by Gerry OSullivan: https://www.osullivansolutions.ie/
A mediator needs start to ask effective mediation questions that will help to shake their conviction … just a little. This will allow space for them to reflect a little more.
- ‘How might this option work? In what way might it not work?’
- ‘When would it work? When might it not work?’
- ‘What external factors could sabotage the working of this agreement?’
- ‘What internal factors could sabotage the working of this agreement?’
- ‘What are the things you might not know about at this stage? Where could you find out more?’
- ‘How would this proposed solution meet the interests and needs of both of you?’
- ‘At what level would you peg the appropriateness of this solution
- 10 = very appropriate and 0 = not appropriate at all?’
- ‘What needs to be in place to make this a solution that meets the interests and needs of both of you?’
OSullivan Solutions advanced mediation training in formulating and asking questions is packed with learning resources and is offered through three formats: