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Navigating the Listening in Mediation

“When there is a patient listener  the speaker starts listening to the speaker within the speaker”. 

Decision making process and the act of  decision taking are two aspects that  govern the field of settlement through mediation. Disputing parties may walk back without being able to take a decision notwithstanding  participating in   lengthy decision making process  . Emotion is a factor that may   prevent a person from taking decisions .Some emotions need to be handled and  some need to be addressed. Unless emotions are addressed reasoning will not work .   Where emotion stops  working the reasoning will begin to  take charge.  Decision taking is the fruit of reasoning.   ‘Pure Reasoning’ free from emotions enables a person to take appropriate decision.  By effectively using the skill of active listening mediator sets an atmosphere where emotions get addressed  and reasoning begins to work.

Active listening is considered as one of the essential skills  of mediator   with which a mediator who is  trained to listen  navigates the  entire process .

Communication is a two way process.  Listening is no exception. In every speaker there is a listener. In every listener there is a speaker waiting to speak. The narratives revolve around  what a disputing party wants to happen and  does not  want to happen followed by one’s  own  justifications.  In many mediations while listening patiently  to the speaker the mediator   understands that “ The speaker  sees a victim of injustice , hero/heroine , role model in himself/herself , and sees a negative personality in the opponent and/or sees the opponent as  a beneficiary of unjust enrichment.”  Mediator further understands that ‘There is creation, there is projection and there is expectation in the backdrop of facts.’

 Each disputing party understands the facts within the frame fixed by himself/herself and expects  every other person to watch and understand the facts through the same frame.  The fact that ‘facts just exist and  get the meaning through which they are viewed’ cannot be ignored by the mediator.  

Any  speaker expecting the listener to understand the speaker as the speaker wants to be understood  is  an understandable expectation. But are the words coming from the speaker loaded  with emotions and feelings? Have the emotions and feelings made the speaker see, create and project the picture ‘not’ as they are? are the concerns. Mediator cannot doubt the bonafides of the speaker, but can always assist the speaker to go through the process of listening while speaking to get  answers to the above questions. This is where the technique of “navigating the listening  of the speaker while speaking” comes into picture.

To whom does a human being listen to? “To one’s own inner voice”.  No one listens to any one else  unless one’s inner voice agrees. This inner voice is something placed deep within an individual, which calmly sees, feels, listens,  and analyses  the facts as they are required to be seen, listened to and analyzed and  then speaks in its assertive voice  directing the individual  to act in one way or the other. This inner voice can be listened to by only those who are prepared to listen to it. Mediator cannot ignore the fact that with any troubling issues every disputing party will be constantly in conversation with oneself.  Majority of the times the true inner voice gets  surrounded by sounds, emotions, feelings many of which may be the result of  one’s suffering from imaginations, pushing the  actual inner voice  far below  and at times burying it. It may just be  a mind chattering. The conversation of the speaker may many a times be with the external sound than with the inner voice. It is here the mediator’s  role begins to play. Before the speaker -turned – listener listens  to the inner voice, there has to be an external physical listener who listens to everything the speaker speaks. Motivational speaker and author Steve Maraboli rightly said “Sometimes we need someone  to just listen. Not to try  and fix anything or offer alternatives, but to just be there …to listen. An ear that listens can be medicine for a heart that hurts.” This need of the parties in mediation cannot be ignored by the mediator but is required to be satisfied.   

 When a party speaks, the mediator listens to the emotions and  feelings as well   and visualizes  the facts as painted and  projected by the party. Mediator  assists the party to  voluntarily cleanse  the unwanted weed  to enable the inner voice to surface and take control. Mediator  sets an atmosphere  for the party to have uninterrupted conversation with the inner voice., to listen to it and thereafter take a call. This navigation is a   psychological  process. It has to be carefully and meticulously handled to see amazing results.  

 In mediation listening acts as a controlling mechanism. It is not enough if only the mediator listens actively. Mediator has to  set an atmosphere in such a way that the disputing parties and others actively listen to  each other. Mediator should also set an atmosphere for the speaker to  have uninterrupted conversation with one’s own voice and listen to the inner voice. Failing which   “ party’s right of self determination” may get sabotaged somewhere.    

Navigation: Navigating the parties to listen to their inner voice and take a decision about  moving  from where they were struck to where they decide  to go.


Wife was willing to get back to husband , but had many apprehensions.  She had put several conditions  to be agreed upon by the husband , his mother and his sister.

Husband was agreeable to take back  wife but   with many riders. 

 There was no meeting point between the two


  • All humiliations suffered by her.(2)Use of words that have hurt her (3)Interference by husband’s mother and sister(4)Failed expectations.


1)Humiliations suffered ,2) Toxic words, 3) Interference by parents of wife, 4)Failed expectations.

TECHNIQUE USED: Uninterrupted active listening  


  • Setting an agenda: Taking one point after the other for reflection
  • Effective questions
  • BREAK :-Providing time to converse with the inner voice
  • SILENCE  – Providing an opportunity to  contemplate 
  • Humiliations suffered: Can you please try  speaking   to yourself and find out   whether something can be done  from your end to avoid humiliations from others?  

(shifting the focus to future from the situations that are over )

  1. ii) Toxic words:Can you please  ask yourself what are the words you could have ignored? What are the words you could have avoided using?

(Assisting the party to identify  what is more important to him/her )

iii) Interference  and expectations: What do you think you can do to see to it that you and your spouse and others in the  family be happy? 

iv)What are your reasonable expectations from your spouse and relatives    which they can honor? What are their expectations that you can respect?

(Asking circular question  fixing liability on the person who answers).

Trust building: ASSURANCE BY THE MEDIATOR:  You need  not have to  tell me the answers.


Technique used:

 Setting an atmosphere : Requesting the  party to tell everything  that the party wants to tell  , in consultation with the  inner voice.

Active listening by the mediator as well by the speaker.

RESULT: Parties decided to live as couple.

“A good listener is one who helps us overhear ourselves.”
Yahia Lababidi- Egyptian American thinker and poet


Sarathi Susheela

S.Susheela is a designated Senior Counsel practicing in the High Court of Karnataka at Bangalore. She has done her Masters in Sociology, a Post Graduate Diploma in Industrial Relations and Personal Management and Post Graduate Diploma in Alternate Dispute Resolution from ICADR. She has been practicing for the last 33… MORE >

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