“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” – Mark Twain
Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is essential to sharpening of those skills that better one’s job execution. For a mediator this is particularly important due to the nature of work done. The mediator’s primary function is to facilitate the mediation process to allow the disputing parties to arrive at a solution. These disputes range from business to family related issues which may be highly sensitive. Without the proper skills to run the process, the mediation may fail and plunge the parties into worse a situation than they were in before. It is for this reason that SDRC provides courses designed at helping mediators advance their skills.
On the 29th of August 2015, SDRC held the first installment of its CPD training courses which focused on the listening and questioning skills of a mediator. A few of the lessons learnt from the session included:
- Self-awareness- as a mediator it is important to know yourself to better allow you to manage the diverse personalities and emotions that may be present during the mediation process. Self-awareness allows you to listen more effectively and to keep your emotions in check so that you can effectively facilitate the parties to reach a settlement.
- Build trust and rapport- the parties to the dispute must be able to trust you as a mediator so that the process can run effectively. This will enable the parties to open up to you during the process.
- Active/interactive listening- this involves eye contact, facing or leaning towards the speaker etc. Some of these actions such as eye contact that typically indicate that you are listening may make some people nervous or uncomfortable. The mediator should be perceptive to the parties’ mood and should be able to adjust accordingly depending on the parties before you. The aim is to create a relaxed atmosphere that will encourage the parties to open up. Other active listening techniques are re-framing and summarizing. It is important to re-frame what the parties recount to you. This helps you gauge whether everyone has understood what the person making the statement intended to convey and helps to prevent assumptions from being made. Assumptions make it less likely for the parties to reach an agreement especially where the assumptions made differ from each other’s. Summarizing demonstrates the mediators understanding and also allows the mediator to draw out the key points or issues from the recounts given by the parties.
- Passive listening- communication involves more than just spoken words. That being said, even one’s facial expressions, verbal interjections, sitting position and posture communicates something to those present. Posture should communicate that you are listening to what is being said and you are open and receptive to it. The mediator needs to be careful with their choice of verbal interjections especially where they may be taken as expressing agreement for example “Yes, go on”. It may be advisable to use a variety of interjections that encourage the party to proceed with what they were saying. The party speaking should feel that the mediator is listening to them while the other party should not at the same time feel that the mediator is siding with the other party.
- Questioning- this can be a tool to enhance understanding and help in paraphrasing. The questions should not be closed ended as they may be counterproductive to the process.
The most striking lessons from the session was that while the parties to a dispute may opt to pursue mediation, the fact is that not all disputes can be resolved by way of mediation. One should therefore never feel pressured to get the parties to arrive at a settlement.
We hope to see you at our next CPD training.