Listening is a skill that is developed and perfected over time. As you practice active listening, it becomes easier and more natural.
Mediation is a process of handling conflict in which parties come together and try to settle their issues by talking. The parties are assisted by a mediator who takes up the role of the neutral in facilitative mediation. During the mediation process, each of the parties take turns in talking during which they share their concerns, ask questions and explore options. Listening therefore has a significant place in the mediation process. These are some of the reasons why both the parties and mediator should listen actively during mediation:
1. Listen to unravel deep seated issues that may not be explicit
Listening keenly to a party speak is important in order to understand the issues that bother them. For example, when a party states that: they never respond to my emails, pick my phone calls or return my messages; they are stating actions that offend them. However, behind the actions that cause offence they could be feelings of being ignored or disrespected which could actually be the root of the conflict.
2. Listen to engage
When conflict occurs, it can be as a result of what one of the parties feels was done or was not done. One parent could for example accuse the other parent of not helping out with the children. The accused parent on the other hand could be thinking that once they fulfilled a specific duty like picking or dropping the children or paying fees, they had done their part. By listening, asking questions and explaining exactly what they expect or would like, the parents are able to make clear their expectations by stating tasks they would need help with so as to feel like the other parent was more involved in the children’s lives.
3. Listen to reframe
Occasionally, during the mediation process, parties express themselves in anger or bitterness. At such times, the choice of words can be extremely hurtful. The mediator therefore should intervene by listening and then repeating the concerns of the aggrieved party taking care to relay the content and weight of the message without using words that could be offensive to the other party.
4. Listen to empathize
Active listening is about putting on the other person’s shoe to see where it pinches and not necessarily walking in it. It helps the parties appreciate the diversity in thought and outlook which leads to different actions. This aids the parties be more accommodative of each other and, therefore, more willing to find and pursue common interests around their conflict.
5. Listen because it’s a dialogue
Mediation is not just random talk but having constructive dialogue. Dialogues are two way conversations where one person speaks while the other listens then responds. As such, dialogues are only effective when those who are involved listen and then respond to what has been said in the appropriate context.
Mediators will find that practicing active listening and encouraging the parties to also actively listen makes a big difference both in the mediation process and final outcome.
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