Other barriers to a successful mediation where one or more
participants fall within any of the subsets listed above are ego
(e.g., the need to be right and the beliefs that one is [always]
right and compromise is failure) and face saving (the belief that
success is determined by the perception of an event by others).
The most effective strategies for moving participants around
barriers and toward resolution are in no way unique to commercial mediations. Mediation strategies are the subjects of
discussion in many volumes of professional literature. Most
come in handy at one time or another. However, there are
only three indispensable, unchanging ingredients for effective
strategy implementation: the mediator’s ability to be nimble,
observant, and flexible. Stated differently, if something doesn’t
work, try your next move. Actually, I prefer “your next move”
to “strategy.” Strategy implies a decision made in advance
based on studied analysis. “Your next move”(YNM) is based on
experience and instinct, which is a better description of how
YNM 1: Pre-Mediation Schmoozing.
Before the mediation starts, have a chat with the participants
and guide them toward discovery of common ground, even if
it’s only that they all breathe.
YNM 2: Humor.
Humor is my default YNM. If the participants are tense and
glaring, a bit of self-deprecatory humor loosens things up. Stay
away from humor directed at one of the participants or religious, cultural, sexist, racial, and political humor, humor about
current events, sports teams, or food groups. (I was confronted
by a testy vegan when I told a joke about fast food restaurants.)
Be ready for YNM when it appears that a participant has no
sense of humor.
Me (after participants had reached impasse): This is
a great time to take a break, give our brains a rest, and
maybe allow the things we’ve discussed and proposed
today sink in. [I continue, smiling] It’s usually about now
that I break for costume changes anyway. Today the
theme is Elizabethan.
Participant: What?! You didn’t say anything about a
costume change in the letter you sent out last week.
We’re not prepared.
YNM 3: Role Reversal.
Asking two business people to switch roles is often surprisingly effective, and always entertaining. The trick to role play
is the way you, as director, conduct the play. Each participant
must respectfully describe the other’s position, interests, and
motives. Performing this exercise is often the first time a participant understands the others’ positions. I do not recommend
this YNM for mediations involving more than four participants.
YNM 4: Your Demeanor and Avoiding the Appearance of Bias.
Remind yourself to sit back, relaxed but attentive, and adjust
the pace of your speech in inverse proportion to the tension
level of the proceeding; if tensions are running high, your pace
should match Diane Rehm’s. The participants will mirror your
demeanor and tone. Also, check yourself from time to time
to make sure you are giving all participants roughly the same
amount of attention, eye contact, and speaking time. This is
not as easy as it sounds. Some participants are easier to talk
and relate to and you naturally engage with them more. Others may be more difficult to relate to, such as the gentleman in
one of my mediations who limited his interaction to one word
answers and questions.
As an example of even-handed treatment, when a participant cracks a joke, laugh (do not guffaw) while looking at
the non-joking participant. (A mediator for a national labor
organization shared this with me. He said it reassures the
non-joker that you care about his reaction while reassuring
the joker that’s he’s humorous.)
Another suggestion is that when someone says something that moves the process along, react positively by
reiterating what was said and/or leaning forward toward the
speaker. Then ask the other participants what they think
and/or whether they can build on what was said. If you
are in caucus, the first clause of the foregoing sentence still
YNM 5: Face Saving/Ego Message/Self-image Polishing.
The YNM of face saving should be used whenever the
opportunity arises. I mentioned above that face saving
is a barrier to problem solving. It is also a very effective
YNM. Without being cloying, offer positive reinforcement
whenever a nascent entrepreneur or member of the next
generation beneficially contributes to the conversation,
and praise them as creative, independent thinkers. Positive
reinforcement does not work as well with established entrepreneurs (because they already know that they’re right) but
they will appreciate the reinforcement and trust your opinion. The corporate person driven by sycophancy and finger
pointing is not as positively affected by this YNM because
he/she doesn’t care what anyone in the room thinks of
him. He only cares how the mediation outcome will look to
his superiors. This participant needs a solution that either
falls within the parameters given to him by management or
comes with an explanation that makes him the hero and/
or points the finger at someone else. Amazingly, this type
of solution is easy to construct because it is a narrative, and
does not involve actual problem-solving skills. And, as the
mediator, I don’t mind being the target of finger pointing if it
will provide a needed mechanism for face saving.
As a final note, the above are examples of what has
worked for me. Each mediator’s strengths and weaknesses are different, resulting in different YNM’s. I say the
more YNM’s, and the more we share them with each other,