Mediation: “Soft on People, Hard on Issues”


Mediation: Looking for that third way.

Typically, negotiations are approached with two different styles.  The “soft” approach, or a “hard” approach.  With mediation, the focus is on creating a third approach that focuses on creating options that provide for mutual gain.

With a “soft” approach, the focus is on preserving relationships.  Compromises are suggested.  Things are given away.  All in an effort to keep the relationship friendly.  By using this method to resolve the conflict, a person unwittingly compromises their interests.  The relationship may be fine, but nothing much gained.  In fact  things may have been given away unnecessarily.  Resulting in feeling a little dissatisfied.

The “hard” approach is opposite.  Using this approach, the focus is on “winning”.  Using authority, tactics and/or aggressive language to get what is wanted.  The issue is to get as much as possible.  The more that is obtained, the more successful the negotiation.  The relationship is secondary.

What is the option?

The option is to look at the conflict from a third perspective.  Yes, relationships are important.  No more damage will be done to the relationship.  It may not improve, but it won’t get worse.  Yes, issues are important.  A fair deal must be established.  People need to feel like they gained something of value.  This balance can only be achieved by focusing the “interests” of both parties.  This is the third way.

Establishing the interests of both parties moves the focus.  Moves the focus away from the “soft”, away from the “hard”.   Concessions are not made to keep the relationship.  Concessions are not made as a threat to the relationship.  The focus shifts to what’s in the best interest of both parties.

What does a good mediation look like.

An effective mediation allows participants to be empowered.  They become problem-solvers.  Options are created.  Helpful and respectful conversation takes place.  It moves beyond “win-win” towards finding mutual benefit.  The goal becomes creating a thoughtful solution effectively and respectfully.  Finding that mutual gain, while doing no harm to the relationship.

Mediation Process: Keep moving forward

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Mediation Process: Keep moving forward.

Creating hope for a resolution is an important part of the mediation process.  It’s not uncommon for participants to focus on past events.  To frequently refer to issues of the past.  That’s not to say past issues and events are not important.  They are!  But what is of more importance is the ability to break free, stop looking backwards and to look forwards.  The resolution, or solution, is in the future.  It requires a mindset.

But the past events are important? Aren’t they?

Yes, events and issues from the past are important.  They brought you to the place you are now.  The real question is “What do I do with them”?  Really, there are only two things that can, and need to be done.

First; get all the issues and events of importance out onto the table.  Discuss them.  Question them. Understand their importance to the larger conflict.  Understanding the why certain things are important to certain people can give a clue to a potential resolution.

Second; accept and acknowledge. Accept that these events occurred. Accept that they had a negative impact.  Accept any personal responsibility.  Acknowledge how events affected yourself.  Acknowledge how events affect others.  Acknowledge that they are in the past, where they need to stay.  Acknowledge that you have the ability to overcome.

I spend a good deal of time during mediation helping participants deal with this.  To help them overcome these obstacles and to create an environment for positive conversation.

So how can I get past all this?

Asking good questions an often help.  But they need to be good questions.  I find that phrasing questions that encourage positive answers that focus on positive changes and actions are effective.  Too often participants get caught up in the “downward” spiral of negative thoughts, comments and questions that result in negative answers.

It is difficult but can be done.  Questions that are “accusing” or “blaming” by nature are not helpful.  “How could you have…….?”  By it’s very wording, this question can encourage a defensive response.  It is focused on past events.  Flip it into the positive.  “Help me understand when……?”  Much more positive.  The phrase does not blame or accuse.  You are seeking to understand.  This would encourage the other person to share something.  The first step to forward thinking.

Try it.  Listen to yourself.  Are you asking negative, blaming or accusing type questions?  Do your questions encourage a negative reply?  Do your conversations tend to result in “going round in circles”?

Flipping from the negative to the positive is not easy to do.  Remember, positive questions based in trying to understand the other person’s point of view will result in a much more positive and informative conversation.

Positive and informative conversations will help you to move forward.  Forward to a workable and mutually agreeable solution.