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  • Writer's pictureCooper Shattuck

Effective Communications in Mediation

We spend much of our time at mediations in caucuses. This challenges the parties’ ability to communicate with the other side effectively. I routinely see parties attempting to negotiate without effectively addressing their interests. They don’t share them with me, the mediator, and they certainly don’t share them with the other side. They are missing ripe areas for a compromise resolution. Worse yet, their communications are fraught with vague messaging which they attempt to communicate simply with monetary offers, or they include terms and conditions which fail to recognize or address interests that are important to them. What is it that should be communicated in offers and counteroffers? How can our communications be more effective?

Though we as an advanced species have developed very sophisticated means of communicating, including extensive written and verbal languages, we are often very poor communicators.

Negotiations are a time when our communications skills should be honed to a state of excellence. Yet, they are not. Many negotiators believe that they should somehow obfuscate their true intentions, their real needs and desires, and their honest goals and interests. Many mediators find themselves aiding in this ineffective process. In fact, mediators are often put into the position of furthering or at least repeating the miscommunications as mere shuttle diplomats aimlessly wandering between the multiple caucus rooms. Is that really helping? Is that fulfilling the role that the parties really want and need?

Effective negotiators – those who can get what they want and need – are honest about what is important to them. How else can you get what you want?

Expressing a willingness to shed some light on your interests is only half the challenge. Hearing and recognizing what’s important to the other side and attempting to give them what they want is just as important. Yet, this rarely happens in mediation. I’m not sure what everyone is so afraid of. Being vulnerable? You aren’t making yourself any more vulnerable by sharing these interests. Not sharing them means an increased likelihood that reaching a settlement will be difficult.

Ideally, parties should be communicating honestly about their interests to find a win-win solution or at least one that addresses the interests of all involved.

But if a party won’t bite on that, at least any other “messages” that they want to convey should be clear. And worst of all, don’t say that you are going to do something or aren’t going to do something that does not accurately reflect what you may or may not do.

As a mediator, I’m not a potted plant. I work with the negotiating parties to ensure their communications are clear, concise, and effective. This means actively listening to the parties, offering suggestions, honestly evaluating potential positions, and being proactive without taking control of the negotiations. It’s your negotiation. I simply want to help.


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