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#MediationQuickTips: ‘What’s going to happen next?’ Newsletter Issue 5

Mediation Quick Tips

Welcome to this ‘Mediation Quick Tips’ Newsletter Issue 3

In this article I am writing about the preparatory work that can be done prior to the holding of a joint mediation session, in particular:

  1. The value of having comprehensive private separate meetings prior to bringing mediation participants together.
  2. Sending participants some questions to reflect on before that separate meeting with the mediator so they will start to think about the conflict in a more focussed way, as well as from a broader perspective.

 It is divided into three sections:

  1. Mediation Quick Tips
  2. Theory behind the Quick Tips
  3. How to apply this theory to practice
Next O’Sullivan Solutions online advanced mediation courses:

March 6, 7, 13, 14, 2024

September 19, 20, 26, 27, 2024

Irish Standard Time: / GMT: 1.30pm -5.30pm
Eastern Standard Time: 8.30am – 12.30pm
Pacific Standard Time: 5.30am – 9.30am 

1. Mediation Quick Tips

‘What’s going to happen next?’

Consider having comprehensive separate private meetings with mediation participants so that they and you are more prepared for the joint session. By comprehensive I mean meetings that are at least 1 hour to 2½ hours in duration for each person.

Also consider sending them a list of questions that they can consider and reflect on before that separate meeting.

Note on Terminology: I use the terms ‘separate meeting’ and ‘separate private meeting’ interchangeably. They are confidential meetings with individual mediation participants and take place before a joint meeting, as well as during a joint meeting. The separate meeting that takes place during a joint meeting is also commonly known as a ‘caucus’ meeting.

The theory behind these #MediationQuickTips and how to put the theory into practice is in sections 2 and 3 below.

2. Theory behind Mediation Quick Tips

 My main goals for holding comprehensive separate meetings are:

  1. To create safety for the mediation participant while giving them the opportunity to open up more about the conflict
  2. To initiate the creation of a paradigm shift in the thinking of the mediation participants, prior to their joint meeting with each other.

A separate meeting gives a mediator the opportunity to ask some exploratory and even challenging questions that they may otherwise deem to be unsafe to ask when both mediation participants are in the room together.

The creation of a paradigm shift in the thinking of mediation participants may start its journey as a result of the questions asked at the separate meeting.

The holding of these comprehensive separate private meetings ensures that I am not entering the joint session without any knowledge of what issues or emotions may emerge and this could result in my not asking the necessary exploratory and challenging questions that could shift mediation participants’ thinking.

Benefits for the mediator from holding a comprehensive separate meeting:
  • Various hypotheses developed by a mediator can be quietly and safely challenged, tested and amended prior to the joint meeting. It is important not to develop an hypothesis and then only check if it is correct as this would narrow down the amount of information and the type of information that your brain will absorb. What is preferable is to develop many hypotheses’ and then seek to prove them incorrect, as well as correct. This will ensure that the amount and type of information, as well as the differing perspectives that emerge are more comprehensive.
  • Significantly more information can be gained and, indeed, clarified rather than looking for this at the joint session where mediation participants may be hesitant to talk openly.
  • Facilitating a mediation participant to think through their thinking enables them to become more focussed, and when they are more focussed and clearer about the conflict, they start to think more broadly about possible solutions.
  • Differing perceptions may be identified enabling a mediator to explore any misinterpretations or misunderstandings that may exist between the participants.
  • A tentative agenda for the joint meeting can be framed knowing the positions, underlying interests and needs of the mediation participants.
  • Some possible solutions to match the underlying interests and needs of participants may be identified although this should not be done until a mediation participant has the opportunity to vent any emerging emotions first.
  • The identification of the willingness and capacity of mediation participants to engage constructively can be assessed.
  • Rapport, trust and cooperation are gained.

I have often been told by other mediators, both in Ireland and internationally, that working within the confines of an organisational body that does not include having comprehensive separate meetings as a strategy means that, at times, they feel like they are ‘walking on eggshells’ at their first, and joint, meeting with participants. They say that this prevents them from asking more exploratory questions as they are unsure about what responses may emerge and whether they will be able to manage these responses.

Benefits for the mediation participant from having a comprehensive separate meeting:
  • Rapport and a sense of safety and trust in the mediation process and in the mediator will be developed.
  • Mediation participants will hear and understand how the mediation process works and they will have an opportunity to voice any concerns and ask questions.
  • They will have a space to talk freely, without the other party being present, knowing that it is a confidential meeting.
  • They will have an opportunity to identify and talk about their underlying interests and needs.
  • They will be able to vent their emotions and, as a result, be able to think more clearly. (Refer to this #MediationQuickTips Newsletter.
  • They will become more focussed for the joint mediation session as they will have identified their real issues and needs as well as where possible solutions to the conflict may lie.

I have found this comprehensive separate meeting to be of major benefit to the participants and hence the process. Participants usually come in to that first private meeting looking anxious and nervous and I notice that on leaving their demeanour has changed and they often comment that they have greater clarity about their conflict and what they need to say and get from the joint session.  Remember their usual discussions about their conflict may only have been with someone who offered them ‘a cup of tea’, or who responded by talking about their own experience of conflict, or who judged them or offered solutions.

3. How to apply this theory to practice?

To start the process of creating a shift in the thinking of mediation participants early on in the process I find it extremely helpful to send them some questions on which to reflect prior to our first separate meeting.

This section covers the list of possible questions that could be sent to mediation participants to support them to start a reflection process before meeting a mediator.  These questions can be sent to them with the usual letter giving information about the process of mediation, the mediation principles within which a mediator works, the role of a mediator, the role of the mediation participants etc. The types of questions asked may need to be adapted to the context in which the conflict arose and questions addressing a third party may be needed.

It is really important that the party being met by the mediator is not asked any of the questions on this list about the other party until they themselves have been given an opportunity to voice their narrative and talk about any impact on them first. Otherwise they may react defensively to any questions about the other. 

Next O’Sullivan Solutions online advanced mediation courses:

March 6, 7, 13, 14, 2024

September 19, 20, 26, 27, 2024

Irish Standard Time: / GMT: 1.30pm -5.30pm
Eastern Standard Time: 8.30am – 12.30pm
Pacific Standard Time: 5.30am – 9.30am 

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