Mediation Process: Listening Empathically

mediation process

EMPATHIC LISTENING: Part two – How can I listen with empathy during the mediation process?

Welcome, this is part two, of a three part series of blogs on Empathic Listening during the mediation process.  In the last blog I wrote in general terms to define what empathy is and why it is a valuable skill to the mediation process.  When conducting mediations, I find it a very useful tool.  It helps to keep the conversations civil, focused and purposeful.  We all want to find a helpful resolution to the conflict.

LISTENING or HEARING: What’s the difference?

Let’s start by finding out the difference between  “listening” and “hearing”.   How many times has a parent heard, “You’re not listening to me.”  In a workplace, how often do you hear, “They just don’t get it.”  During relationship conflicts, how frequently does someone say, “They don’t hear what I’m saying.”  What do these statement have in common?

What they have in common is that the person is “listening” but not “hearing”.  So, what’s the difference?

Clues that let you know you are hearing during the Mediation Process

When you are truly hearing someone, you will find that you are:

  •         curious about the other person
  •         setting aside your own opinions
  •         are paying attention to the other persons eyes, posture, gestures, and hands

Doing these allows you to be “in the moment” with your speaker.  You are in tune with everything that they want to tell you.  Not just their words, but their deepest values and beliefs, their inner emotions.  Things that are of utmost importance to them.  Things that they value.  This is Empathic Listening.


Just like any other skill; running, singing or anything else, listening with empathy requires learning skills and then practice.  Here are a couple skills that I have learned and practiced that can be effective in helping me really “hear” the other person(s).

1. Patience: Take your time, allow the other person to gather thoughts, to repeat themselves.  Let them guide the conversation.  Often, it is very difficult for people to reveal their true concerns.  Trust must be established.

2. Control your impulse to help:  Refrain from giving suggestions or opinions.  Remember, you need to be in the moment with the speaker.  That means you want to encourage them to speak.  They want to be heard: to tell their story.  Offering suggestions/opinions in not helpful.  Doing this will only push the speaker away from what really needs to be told

3. Be curious: Don’t be satisfies with what you may have just heard.  It is likely that the speaker has more to say.  Encourage more conversation.  Ask for more information, more detail, more explanation.  Remember you are after their inner most values and beliefs.  That takes conversation.

4. Silence can be good:  In my experience, most people do not reveal everything of importance very quickly.  Conflicts can be very confusing, there can be a lot going on.  It may take a bit of time for the speaker to organize thoughts, remember events or it can be just be difficult to reveal issues.  Be silent – time does not have to be filled completely with conversation.  Being quiet allows for the speaker to organize their thoughts, it can encourage the speaker to guide the conversation to what is important to them.


During the mediation process, asking a good question that encourages a full answer is critical to “hearing” the speaker.  Another skill that can be learned and developed through practice.  Remember, if you are going to be “in the moment” with the person, they need to talk, in order to talk and converse – you need to ask a good question.  Here are some good phrases that encourage conversation:

1. You sound confused (or any other emotion).

2. Help me understand.  When you said…….

3. I’m confused about….

4. You don’t have to answer this right now, but think about…..

5. So you think that…..

The most important point of these stems is that at no point has the word “I” been used.  The conversation is not about me….it’s about the other person.  By using the word “you”, the focus of the conversation is placed on the speaker.  Right where it should be.

The mediation process can be a successful option to litigation.  Skillful use of Empathic Listening can really help move the process towards resolution!

– Miles

For information contact me, today: (403) 952-8752.

 I am a mediator located in Medicine Hat, Alberta. 

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