- Understanding leading to new scenario
Stage 1 – Exploration
It is important for the mediator to be in possession of all the facts, and each party should be able to tell the mediator where to obtain the information needed, which should include:
- The history of the conflict
- Communication patterns
- The distribution of perceived power
- How important the problem is
- Any interpersonal difficulties involved
- What emotions have been aroused
This information may be collected at separate interviews with each party or at a joint session with all parties present. If it is a ‘hot’ conflict with a lot of feelings around it may be better to keep the parties separate at this stage. While it is preferable to obtain the information by interviews, the use of written statements or questionnaires could be considered.
Another advantage of separate interviews is that the mediator has an opportunity to build a rapport with each party and for them to develop trust in the mediator.
Before any session takes place, all parties should know how it will be run - i.e. adhering to strict rules as to how people should communicate. Apart from the obvious need to control and prevent any further escalation, this also models a way of dealing with others that will be a useful learning for them in the future.
- Speak in personal terms using “I” statements
- Personal attacks and abuse will not be allowed
- Each party will be allowed an uninterrupted hearing
- Each party should listen to and try to see the issues from the perspective of the other party
- Verifiable facts are preferable to assumptions
- Confidentiality is not helpful as it leads to secrets
Stage 2 – Understanding Leading to a New Scenario
This part of the process is always carried out with all parties together. It may continue immediately from Stage 1 if that was a joint session, or may be a separate meeting set up later. The objective is for both parties to be able state their case in the presence of the other party and eventually agree. They should be allowed to express how they feel and to ‘let of steam’.
The mediator helps them to clarify what the issues are and to separate personality problems from practical issues. They will be helped to discover any common ground between them and to look for new perspectives.
Towards the end of this part they will be encouraged to say how they want things to be different and to come up with a joint preferred new scenario. This part is where the skill of the mediator to control what is happening and enforce the ground rules is important.
Stage 3 – Action
In this stage the creativity of the parties and the mediator come to the fore. The parties are encouraged to brainstorm as many strategies as possible for achieving the new scenario, and the mediator may choose to add suggestions of their own or build on suggestions of the parties. The results of the brainstorm should be recorded, for which a lip chart is an ideal medium.
Next they will evaluate each of the options and select which strategy will be used to implement the new scenario and then plan appropriate action. The mediator should ensure that the eventual goal is ‘SMART’. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely.)
Decisions should be taken as to how the implementation will be monitored and evaluated as it goes forward. It will probably help if there is a third party appointed to help with the monitoring.
The mediator can help if that is appropriate in the circumstances. It is important that the process of implementation is carefully monitored so that the parties do not slip back into the old conflict.
Further meetings may be arranged if necessary, and they should be encouraged to use the communication skills they learned during the mediation process.