Mediation: A 4-Step-Approach to Solving Any Conflict – Part 2 –

Learn why a successful leader needs to have excellent mediation skills

In the last post, we looked at the first phase of the mediation process, during which trust is built between the mediator and the parties. We discovered that it was essential for each side of the conflict to be able to state his or her view of the issue at hand, without being interrupted, and with clear indications from the mediator that they are being understood. But the second phase is the most decisive…

Step 2 – From Positions to Interests

Identifying key emotions and asking questions to dig deeper, Inspector-Columbo-style, is what will eventually make it possible for the mediator to move beyond the tip of the iceberg, in other words the positions. A position is basically what each party is demanding from the other: money, power, submission, concessions, you name it. It is all the tangible elements that basically offer no basis for true negotiation, because they allow no room for goodwill to emerge. There is one thing that every good mediator knows: Behind every reproach there is a wish; and behind every wish there is an interest, which in turn stems from a basic need that is not being met. For example, if a party keeps mentioning the fact that he wants more money, then we know that his interest is liquidity. This in turn is rooted in the basic human need for safety. If the other party now starts hearing “I need to feel safe” rather than “Gimme the dough or see you in court” that is quite a different message altogether.

The Basic Needs & Related Interests:

  1. Safety needs (e.g. liquidity, retirement plan, reliability)
  2. Physical well-being (e.g. health, peace, a home)
  3. Social needs (e.g. belong to a community, acceptance, friendship)
  4. Ego-related needs (e.g. success, respect, fun)
  5. Spiritual needs (e.g. control one’s own destiny, meaningfulness, inner peace)

At this stage, it is recommended that the mediator have a separate, short individual conversation with each of the parties. It is a great opportunity to dig deeper and clarify the interests further, plus there may be things that each party has so far not dared disclose out of fear or prudence. For there is one thing the mediator needs to be very clear about: people walk into mediation with a vague understanding of what it really means. They may have registered the fact that it is an alternative way of solving conflicts, but they are likely to be unsure about the way in which information that they volunteer might be used against them in a court of law.

It is therefore essential to reassure them by stating firmly that they only need to reveal what in their opinion is going to help build bridges toward a resolution of the conflict. They also need to understand that while whatever they tell the mediator during the private conversation is confidential, it can nevertheless help him get a better understanding of the situation.

Tip: Build individual conversations into the mediation, and tell parties about it early on.

Once everybody is back in plenary, the mediator is now on the lookout for a turning point, a moment when he senses that animosity has dissipated, and former foes are able to look at each other again. If need be, he still has a number of techniques up his sleeve to get the parties there. Typically, all interests have now been written on a flipchart in separate columns for each party. A break is called before moving to the third step.