Keeping Emotion Out of the Mediation Process

How do you keep emotion out of the mediation process? That is like asking how you can keep the emotion out of a wedding or out of a goodbye. You can’t. There it is; emotions are often at the crux of mediation, and when conflicts have reached this point, it is very hard to separate feelings from facts. Mediators have to be able to balance the validation and recognition of your feelings while ensuring a fair resolution for both sides. If it sounds easier said than done, it is!

Your feelings do matter; as do those of the other party. A good mediator will be able to acknowledge your emotions, instead of allowing them to become obstacles. How?

  • Empathy.  Responding to emotion with empathy is the most powerful tools in the mediator’s tool belt when emotions are running hot. Empathy is not sympathy.  That would feel like the mediator was taking sides.  Responding with empathy is what happens when the person with the emotion feels like that emotion has been understood by the mediator.  This is more than mere acknowledgement – probably a topic worthy of a PhD thesis.  As interesting as that might be, mediators need to be able to do it more than talk or write about it.
  • By making sure mediation is held on neutral territory. You need to feel safe and to ensure no one has an unfair advantage. Mediation should take place in an environment that has no connection with one party or another. This is especially important if there is a history of abuse or risk of physical violence.
  • By ensuring you know exactly what to expect. By knowing what the ground rules are, and what is expected, you can avoid a lot of the stress that comes from encountering an unknown situation. This can help reduce fear and anxiety.
  • By creating a reduced-stress situation. It is sometimes too much to hope for to have a stress-free environment, but a mediator should take steps to reduce stress. Many people view mediation as a pressure cooker; they believe they’ll be stuck in a room and unable to leave until a decision is made. Even when mandatory, remaining at a mediation is voluntary and you can leave anytime you want. Your mediator should make it clear that you are free to take a break or stop mediation completely. You are in control, and this can go a long way in helping keep emotions in check.
  • By guaranteeing privacy. What is said in mediation should stay in the room. Knowing you can voice your opinions or ideas without fear of consequence can be helpful.

When we talk about empathy and a “safe” environment, we do not want to convey the idea that a mediator is a warm, fuzzy friend and therapist. Your mediator has a job to do, and part of that job is making sure everyone feels understood and safe enough to work towards a resolution. Keeping emotions in check, and using them to help further the process, is essential.

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