My kids tease me because I ask so many questions of strangers. It’s a technique I learned only once I became a mediator. (When I was a lawyer, they would accuse me of “taking their deposition” at the dinner table instead). Yes, I am “that lady” who makes great friends during plane rides and while waiting in line or at the Beauty Salon. I am “that person” who meets a stanger at a party and learns about his long-estrangement with his daughter, her challenges with her elderly mother-in-law, his illness or her weird new hobbies.
In mediation, effective interviewing is designed not only to create rapport, but to gain and convey genuine understanding of each disputant’s unique perspective. Often, it will reveal hidden drivers that underlie the conflict and ultimately hold the keys to resolving the dispute. For example, an individual may want to leave his job and start a new company, she may want to return to school or leave her husband. Any of these life changes will help to focus the discussion towards a settlement that will meet their needs and interests.
In order to do that, Mediator’s ask a lot of open-ended questions: “Tell me more about that.” “How did you feel when that happened?” “And what else?” After practicing awhile, you become naturally curious, weaving together each unique story to help achieve some positive outcome for both sides of the dispute. These techniques will serve the additional benefit in networking and building a practice. Asking a lot of questions of people you meet will be more effective in endearing than telling them a lot about you. They say that is why we have two ears and only one mouth. Listen. It becomes fun after awhile–and helps pass the time in those long flights!
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