The art of listening when mediating

Posted on January 16, 2018 by Jeremy Frost

Whilst disputes may be grounded in factual matters – an invoice not paid, goods not supplied or of poor quality, differing shareholder strategic directions – the emotion of the parties involved is often the largest obstacle to be overcome before settlement can be reached.

Active listening

Active listening is essential, so acknowledging what they are saying through nods, noises such as “mmm”, “uh-huh”, “yes” to reassure the person that the mediator is fully engaged and hearing what they say.

This means avoiding the temptation to jump in and ask questions, which may then lead the conversation to a different place, meaning the mediator might miss some vital clues.  

Repeating back

The active listening can then be reinforced by repeating back to the party the points they have made. This repeating back is best done using the party’s own words, also known as reflective language, so that the mediator is not inadvertently overlaying his own interpretation of what has been said. 

This not only allows the mediator to confirm that he has understood what is being said, as well as giving the party the opportunity to consider the validity of what they have said, or if they need to modify it.

Active listening and confirmation will allow the mediator to get to the heart of the matter, whilst at the same time leaving their own opinions and judgments outside the mediation session.

Understanding the underlying emotion

The gaps, non-verbal clues and underlying emotion will provide the mediator with a wealth of understanding of the position and motivation of each party, all of which will help bring them to a successful agreement.