I wish that a 40 hour mediation class was required to become a parent, boss, team member, husband, wife, neighbor … heck for just about any role in life. Why?
Because the skills I learned in my first mediation class serve me well every single day.
So many times, I have used them to ‘deescalate’ an escalating situation. You know the kind where people are getting worked up, their ability to hear each other is waning and they are ready to spar … or worse.
The number one technique I use is to ask a question. It’s not designed to distract the person, but rather to open up pathways in their brain that are closed off to traffic because their wheels are spinning in the mud.
Here’s a recent example.
I mediate cases between the Department of Social Services and parents whose kids have been removed from their homes. Talk about the potential for conflict – and it’s usually directed from the parent to the social worker which is understandable, right?
In this case, the social worker was also very irritated, getting increasingly frustrated and expressed concerns about having a conversation with the parent. And this was before the mediation had even started. Things were heading downhill fast.
So, I asked him the question: “I’m sure you have had previous cases when you have had difficulty communicating with a parent. What techniques helped you to overcome that challenge?” He sat back, looked up into space (some people look down or close their eyes) and thought before he answered. His voice was much calmer and he told me about another experience in a different case. And the mediation went really well.
One of the attorneys was also a part of this conversation. Later, she was telling another person about the mediation and said “Things got off to a really rocky start and I don’t know what happened … it just got better.”
And I smiled and I thought to myself … you witnessed a ‘Magical Mediator Moment’ when a question makes all of the difference. I also refer to them as ‘my little secret’ because most of the time, people don’t even know they are happening. They just know that things have changed.
P.S. For more about using questions, please read my 2013 post ?? Questions ?? Open the Door