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.

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