At some point in a mediation, one person will ‘shift’ from presenting and defending their perspective to genuinely acknowledging the hurt, frustration, loss or other feeling of pain being expressed by the other.
To ‘move’ from a place of focusing only on one’s own opinions and perspectives, a place that has been a type of sanctuary for certainty and therefore comfort, requires one to lower their defenses and to step outside of their view of the past, which they may have held on to for so long as a being the truth.
This ‘movement’ also requires one to push aside the barrier they have put up between themselves and the other. The barrier that has allowed one to ‘turn off’ their emotional intelligence competencies such as self reflection and empathy. To be empathetic, we must first be humble and prepared to want to understand the other as they wish to be understood, not as how we have perceived them to be.
Sometimes, the person who is still in defense mode will not ‘hear’ the other express empathy. They miss the ‘signal’ that the other is ready to ‘see things differently’. They miss this moment of generosity and courage.
A missed opportunity may delay the parties from moving towards agreements. Without some level of resilience and persistence, the empathetic person may express growing frustration and at some stage, move back to participating in a purely transactional discussion. The moment in which the mediation could have segued to include a more restorative or transformative element may have to wait or be lost completely.
It is courteous, if nothing else, for ‘other person’ to acknowledge this offering of empathy. Not only does the first person benefit from the validation, but both parties ultimately benefit because the one who offered this acknowledgment is then influenced to start their ‘shift’ - made all the easier for them because the environment can now be perceived to be ‘less hostile’.
A skilled mediator will wait to see if the other person gives any hint (verbal or non verbal) that they did in fact ‘hear’ or ‘feel’ this change in approach by the other. If this is not forthcoming, then at the next earliest pause, the mediator can encourage a moment of reflection, using a variation of techniques to suit the situation. A mediator should not risk that one participant might feel embarrassed, or that one might become indignant and refuse to acknowledge the other’s empathy. If this risk is a concern, such a discussion would be more suitable for a private session.
For a successful mediation, the mediator must never fail to recognise the generosity, and in fact the courage, of a participant to be the first to reach out to the other from a place of empathy.
1. https://www.mediate.com/articles/susheela-empathy-mediation.cfm Empathy in Mediation by Sarathi Susheela, May 2020.
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