Building rapport within mediation

Posted on March 22, 2018 by Jeremy Frost

Mediation is a powerful tool for resolving disputes and one of the key pillars of mediation is the trust that the mediator is able to build with and between the parties, often in a short space of time.

Trust cannot be assumed, simply because all the parties have agreed to mediation, possibly the choice of mediator and are in attendance. Building rapport is the essential first step towards creating trust, and the quicker it can be established, the quicker the mediation can start to work for all parties involved.

How can rapport be built?

Setting clear expectations for the mediation session, the process, the role of the mediator and how the meidatior will behave will create a strong foundation on which to build.

Rapport is about the mediation gaining understanding and showing respect for each party’s values and bleiefs. He may not agree with them, but will keep that to himself, as the mediator should not be judgmental.

There are several techniques that the mediation can use to build rapport and it is likely that he will use all of these:

  • Putting yourself in the other persons shoes, so you can begin to see the world from their point of view and gain an insight into what is going on in their head
  • Matching behavior (mirroring)
  • Repetition

Mirroring

Matching behavior, also known as mirroring, means copying the other person’s body language - posture, gestures, speed of movement, etc. Once you are matching body language, you can then start to lead the other person to start to match yours. For example, if someone has quite closed body language – crossed arms and crossed legs – you would do the same. Then you would uncross your legs and see if they follow. If they don’t straight away, go back to matching until they do.

Mirroring also works voice matching - speed, pitch, volume. For example, when a party feeling stressed starts speaking very quickly, you reply in a similar tone, with similar language, but then start to slow your speech and use less emotive language, to get them to do likewise.

Both of these will make the other person feel more comfortable and confident that you “get” them.

Repetition

It is often tempting to check understanding by paraphrasing, but it is actually far more effective to use the other person’s own words and reflect this back to them. They will find it easier to accept that you do understand their issues.

Using rapport to resolve disputes

By setting clear expectations, putting himself in each party’s shows, mirroring and reflecting, the skilled mediator will build rapport which he can then use to help the parties reach a resolution.

The mediator should specifically be aware of not allowing the parties to do the following:

  • Shifting goal posts
  • Intellectualising about the problem but not translating it into decisions
  • Remaining preoccupied with past and unable to move forward
  • Fixating on grievances and their victim status

The job of a mediator is to remain impartial, but to fully understand all parties and to steer the conversations towards an amicable resolution for all parties. Rapport is an essential component of the process.

We are experienced in complex mediation involving business disputes, partnership disputes and can speak with you on the phone to discuss how we can help you.