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I Hear What You Are Saying, But What Are You Telling Me (Book Review)

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Most people practicing ADR would agree that there is a lot of communication that occurs non-verbally in the process. In her book, Ms. Madonik proposes that as much as 80% of the communication within an ADR process can be non-verbal and “other-than-conscious” in nature. Ms. Madonik presents a multitude of examples of the non-verbal interaction of disputants, and how the “neutral” can use these signs, cues and meta-messages to bring about a more comprehensive, meaningful and lasting resolution to the conflict.

The author sections her book into two parts. Part One is essentially a glossary of terms and explanation of these terms and concepts. In many cases, things that may have been ignored or felt to be obscure to the mediator in the past, take on a much more significant and provocative nature after reading Ms. Madonik’s explanation. She feels that in order to explain how the non-verbal communication is utilized by all parties in mediation, it is necessary first to understand these concepts in a clear and unambiguous manner. In doing so, Ms. Madonik focuses on specific areas of non-verbal communication. The cornerstones of her premises are eye signals, voice tonalities and body language. While these three categories are a vast simplification of what the author provides to the reader in her text, they are also three items that most mediators are aware of to one extent or another. Ms. Madonik makes the reader understand that merely being aware of these things is not sufficient. Rather, one must not only be aware that these non-verbal communications are occurring, but also in order to be most effective, the mediator needs to be attuned to the information that is being communicated, either consciously or “other-than-consciously” by the participants in the process. She is also careful not to overlook the mediator as a participant in non-verbal communication. Both in the fact that the mediator can use non-verbal communication to control the process and/or the disputants, but also to make sure that the mediator does not communicate inappropriately and incongruently his or her intent through the use of inadvertent non-verbal communication.

The book raises the awareness of the mediator exponentially with respect to the importance and significance of these non-verbal aspects of communication. The book is highly informative and creates many reasons for self-reflection and behavior modification, both personally for the mediator and in a utilitarian sense during the mediation process. Additionally, it is notable that this book should not be the first book that a new mediator chooses to read. While the information included undoubtedly would help even the newest mediator, it is important that there is a significant experiential base for the reader to apply and think about the application of the concepts that Ms. Madonik presents. Because the information should not be taken as universal, but varies from case to case, it is important, that the mediator know how to evaluate disputants with respect to the concepts that the author presents. If a non-experienced mediator were to walk into a mediation and assume that they could figure out all that was going on just by looking at the eye movements and body language of the disputants, they would be very likely to misinterpret what is really being said or communicated in the process. In fact, it seems that the more experience a mediator has in terms of actual mediation, the more relevant what Ms. Madonik has to say will be to the reader. The practitioner will be better able to relate the specifics of the author’s advise to particular or specific situations and mediations.

In Part Two of Ms. Madonik’s book, she presents her seven step process to dispute or conflict resolution. This part of the book is the most valuable to the reader. Even if the first part seems a little ethereal or complicated to integrate, when the reader gets to Part Two of the book, they can then go back and reference what was said by the author in Part One, thereby giving a better understanding of the pure definitional concepts presented in the first part of the book. Her seven Step process is fairly familiar to most mediators. Rather, it is how Ms. Madonik proposes that the mediator go about these steps that is unique and inspiring. The author covers topics such as “Preparation”, “Pre-Mediation Telephone Contact”, “Environmental Management”, “Party Assessment”, “Building Rapport”, “Triggering Actions” and “Bringing Closure” as her Steps to successful mediation. In so doing, she covers the basic processes that mediators have used over and over. Also, in doing so, she makes the reader aware of deficiencies in the manner in which they may have performed these processes in the past or reinforces certain techniques that they have used in the past. And, especially, she alerts the reader to methods and techniques to further enhance the manner in which the mediator goes through these familiar steps to agreement.

It is important that the mediator understands that not all these techniques are appropriate in every mediation. This depends on the nature of the disputants, the number of disputants, the venue of the mediation and numerous other factors that are present or absent in the mediation. Like every person, every mediation is unique in its character and it is the mediator’s responsibility to assess what techniques should be used where, when and to what extent. While some techniques may be appropriate for “Neighbor to Neighbor” disputes, they would be totally inappropriate in a “Victim-Offender” mediation. Additionally, it is also necessary that the mediator remember that time is often an element that is essential in the consideration of what techniques to use and to what extent to use them. That is to say, in a Community Dispute Resolution mediation, which typically will take from 45 minutes to one hour, many things are just not possible in the time frame and must be abridged or even overlooked in that venue. This situation, as opposed to a typical EEOC mediation which takes place over a period of about 6 hours and again, compare this to a mediation which may be scheduled or expected to take several months before consensus agreement is reached, such as in a “Public Dispute” with as many as 40 constituencies represented.

The book is a particularly valuable contribution to the field of ADR. The more open the reader is to the possibility of the usefulness of these techniques, the more the reader is likely to take away from the reading of the book. Also, the more experienced and widely varied the reader’s mediation experience has been, the more applicable that reader will find the concepts presented in Ms. Madonik’s book. The mediator should be constantly aware also of whether there will be a continuing relationship between the disputants after the mediation, or whether the mediation is the type, which is meant to bring smooth closure to a situation that will then result in the disputants never interacting again for the rest of their lives. Whatever type of mediation the mediator is confronted with, there is something, which is applicable to any type of mediation in this book. It is highly recommended as a work that will expand the ever widening ‘toolkit’ that mediators have to work with in striving for successful resolution to disputes that they have been asked to facilitate. ADR neutrals are highly advised to read and consider integrating what Ms. Madonik has to say in this highly thoughtful and revealing work.


Jon Linden

Jon Linden is a Mediator, Trainer and Business Consultant. He holds an BS in biology and an MBA, both from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. Jon spent 20 years in the Food Service Distribution business, where he was the COO and Sr. V-P of a Distribution Center of a major… MORE >

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