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#MediationQuickTips: We know practically nothing! Issue 1

Mediation Quick Tips

Welcome to this ‘Mediation Quick Tips’ Newsletter Issue 1

In this newsletter I want to focus on creating awareness about the communication context in which we mediators work and on how to manage the enormous amount of communication deficit and distortion that exists. This theory will form the basis of much of what I will write in future articles. 

 It is divided into three sections:

  1. Mediation Quick Tips
  2. Theory behind the Quick Tips
  3. How to apply this theory to practice

1. Mediation Quick Tips

Ask questions about what we know, about what we don’t know, as well as what we don’t know we don’t know. Also apply this tip to supporting the parties to seek information about what they may not know about each other.

2. Theory behind the Quick Tips

The information our brain absorbs is limited by three main factors:

Factor 1: The amount of information we have the capacity to absorb

Factor 2: The type of information we absorb being dependent on our experiences, values and beliefs

Factor 3: The emotions that surface for us when our brain is absorbing information causing a deficit and distortion of the information intake

The information we communicate to others is also limited:

We also delete and distort communicated information based on our assumptions about what we think someone should know already, or may not know, or does not need to know…and I could go on forever with this list, but you probably get the point …

All of the above information is explained graphically on film and in more detail on this link:
Scroll down that page to see the film titled:
‘Mediation Training Video: The Context for Creating a Paradigm Shift’

3. How to apply this theory to practice?

Factor 1: Amount of Information absorbed – We know practically nothing!

The first factor limiting the brain’s capacity to absorb information is that the amount of information absorbed by our brain is in deficit

Brain Absorbs


This means that we need to ask further questions about that which we already think we know; about what we don’t know and about what we don’t know we don’t know. And, similarly we need to ask the mediation participants questions about what they might not know about each other.

Strategy A

This is a sample of questions that could be asked of mediation participants: 
  • What do you think that I, as the mediator, may know already?
  • What do you think I, as mediator, may not know or understand yet?
  • What questions need I ask of you so I gain more information and understanding?
  • Is there anything else I don’t know … or understand?

Strategy B

We may need to ask the mediation participants questions about what they might not know about each other. This could be done in private or joint sessions, as you deem appropriate:

Mediator says:

‘I would like to ask you/both of you some questions in case there is information missing that might be important for you to hear?’

  • What might each of you not know or understand about… (the other person, the situation etc?)
  • What might the other person not know or understand about you?
  • What is the one question that the other person could ask of you that could help them to gain understanding about you or your perspective?
  • What question, if asked, could result in making the most difference to the outcome for both of you?

 Factor 2: Type of Information absorbed – We argue based on who we are!

Both parties, and I as the mediator, are not only working from an information deficit but also from a base of information distortion as our unique paradigm, and that of the mediation participants, is based on our experiences, our values and our beliefs and this distorts and influences our perceptions and management of the conflict


Why does information distortion happen?

  • The type of information that we absorb is influenced by our paradigm.
  • Our paradigm is how we see and understand the world, our role in it, and the roles of others.
  • Our paradigm is formed by our experiences, our values and our beliefs.
  • This created paradigm is our reference point for the information we take in and how we interpret it and it is our reference point for the information we communicate to others.
  • Our paradigm becomes our established pattern of thought that customises our communication filters.We argue about...

Based on the influence of our paradigm, one of the actions that we as mediators, need to take when we start building our hypothesis, is to build many of them – not just one hypothesis that matches our paradigm and how we view the world, but lots and lots of hypotheses from different perspectives, no matter how foreign they may seem to us.

And then during mediation we need to prove all those hypotheses wrong rather than checking to see if our hypothesis is correct! This is how you start to bring the unknown unknowns into the mediation process. I do think it would be much easier not to develop any hypothesis but I don’t think this is psychologically possible!

Managing your own paradigm:

  • Never assume you know the assumptions and intentions of the mediation participants.
  • Never assume that a party might think or feel as you would given exposure to the same events.
  • Never think that the solution that would suit you would suit others.

After working on our own hypothesis, we then need to try to understand the paradigms of the mediation participants so that we can support them to understand each other. There are many questions that could be asked and these are just a sample:

  • What were the experiences of each of you during that event? (Our experiences)
  • What were each of your interpretations, assumptions and conclusions about what happened? In what way do they differ from each other? (Our experiences)
  • What do each of you not understand about what happened? (Our experiences)
  • What was impacted that was important to each of you? (Our values)
  • What is the thing that impacted you the most? Tell me a little more? (Our experiences, or our values or our beliefs)
  • What beliefs may have influenced your behaviours/responses? (Our beliefs)
  • What beliefs may be stopping you from moving towards agreement? (Our beliefs)

Factor 3: Emotions arising while absorbing information – We can’t think straight if overwhelmed by emotions!

Our amygdala in our limbic system is our threat detector and as a result we tend to notice and absorb negative information first and may experience an amygdala hijack as a result of a threat or perceived threat.

Amygdala glucose


As a result, our capacity to think clearly is inhibited until our sense of threat has subsided and the oxygen and glucose needed to think cognitively returns to our frontal brain.

I will write in more detail on working with emotions in a separate article, other than to say now that we need to allow a party to vent emotions before they can begin to think more clearly. This process can be started in a caucus or private meeting in order to ‘settle’ a party prior to the joint meeting and to support them in being clear about what they may wish to bring to a joint meeting. The process may also be continued at a joint meeting, if it is appropriate for shared understanding.

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