Include restorative questions
Restorative questions can be asked to the person who caused
the harm and the person who was harmed. The incident of harm
does not need to be in a criminal context where there is a traditional victim and offender. The situation could be between a
supervisor and employee, co-workers, life partners, or business
people. At their core, restorative questions get people to begin
to think about the incident and how it affected them and others.
Participants begin to consider that their actions have impacts
regardless of their intent.
For example, a manager and a subordinate are in a mediation because the employee alleges the manager sent emails
which included statements that she perceived as offensive to
women. The mediator may ask the employee: “What were you
thinking when you read the emails?”, “What have you thought
about since?”, “How has this affected you?”, and “What was
the hardest part for you?” Similar questions can be asked of the
supervisor: “What were you thinking when you were notified of
the complaint?”, “What impact has this had on you?”, and “What
have you thought about since?” As the mediation advances, the
mediator may also ask both parties: “What do you both think
needs to happen to repair the harm done?”
Identify everyone who has been affected
Most mediations include the two people that were involved in
the primary dispute and their advocates. Rarely does a conflict
impact only two people. In a workplace situation co-workers
may have observed the interaction or may have been confidants
of the disputants. In malpractice lawsuits the defendant is represented by the insurance company and may have a limited role in
the mediation. During intake, a restorative neutral may explore
who else has been affected by the situation and whether involving the individuals in the mediation can address the conflict in a
more comprehensive way.
Sometimes neutrals limit involvement in a mediation to those
persons directly involved (named parties, birth parents, etc.).
Using a restorative framework based on the wider community of
stakeholders, the individuals directly involved are encouraged to
identify a supporter(s) to be present in the process. Supporters
participate in the process, share insights into how the offense has
affected them, enrich the problem-solving discussion and may
offer suggestions in the implementation of the solution. With
appropriate pre-mediation planning, supporters can assist by
mitigating power dynamics, tempering reactionary devaluation,
and addressing issues of hypersensitivity and overvaluation that
a neutral cannot always address.
Incorporate affirmation statements
Neutrals often walk the fine line between empathy and sym-
pathy. The neutral must build a level of trust and rapport with
the participants while still maintaining impartiality. Affirmation
statements allow the neutral to demonstrate a level of connec-
tion while still maintaining distance. The affirmation statement
often involves an observation by the mediator designed to rein-
force positive actions or statements by the participant. Further,
the comments invite the recipient to receive and reflect on the
statement and reduce defensiveness. Some affirmation state-
ments may be more appropriate during a pre-process intake, a
coaching scenario, or a private session. Examples of affirmation
Mediator: “I noticed that you started the conversation angry and have calmed down.”
Impact: Congratulations on getting your emotions
Mediator: “I would like to acknowledge that you
began the mediation only talking to me (the mediator) and have now begun to talk to each other.”
Impact: You are making progress.
Develop a plan for returning (reintegration)
Whether or not an agreement is reached, instances that
involve an ongoing relationship or interaction can benefit from
exploring what will happen when the individual returns to the
workplace, the home, or the community. This can be especially
important in mediations that involve a confidentiality clause. The
plan for returning focuses on how the participants will reinte-
grate into the community in a positive way. For example, in peer
mediation students are asked questions such as, “What will you
say if your friend asks you about what happened?”, or “What
will you do the next time this occurs?” Similar questions can be
asked of adults:
• What do you want communicated to others regarding how
this was resolved?
• What do you need to feel comfortable in returning to work/
• Who do you need to talk with about this situation?
• Who or what may prevent you from following through with
• What is needed to provide additional support so you can be
effective in following through?
BECOMING MORE RESTORATIVE
For some ADR professionals, the integration of restorative
practices presents new tools, whereas others may already
embrace a restorative philosophy and utilize many of the tools
mentioned above. The authors of this article have experienced
the transition in becoming a restorative neutral as an evolution,
and at times even an experiment.
Both mediation and restorative practices share many common principles, and both fields continue to evolve in order to
meet the changing needs of individuals and communities in conflict. At their core, both seek to create a space in which people
can be empowered to resolve their disputes and consequently
strengthen their communities.