Mediated Divorce: Am I listening? Am I being heard?


Mediated Divorce

Mediated Divorce: Making a successful mediation?

Several factors determine whether a mediated divorce is successful.  In my opinion there are two that are at the top of the list: listening and understanding.  Better listening leads to better understanding.  So, if you feel that you don’t understand; chances are you are not really listening.  You can’t have one without the other.  In a mediated divorce, listening and understanding is crucial.

Miscommunication: Telling your story or hearing their story?

This type of miscommunication is common to any type of conflict.  It is frustrating.  It is not helpful.  It increases the tension within the conflict.  Parties become more and more focused on not being understood.  But that is not the issue!  The issue is not understanding; not being understood.
Think about it.  Which would improve the conversation: focusing on telling your story, or, focusing on listening to the  other person’s story.  I think most people would agree that listening would encourage the conversation.  Take the time to first clearly understand the other parties “story”.  After that, expressing your “story” should become easier.

Effective listening: Some guiding principles.

So what can you do  to help become a better listener?  Here are some guiding principles.  Each one is fairly straight forward and reasonable.

  1. Stop Talking

Resist the urge to respond, to say the first thing that comes to mind.  Your purpose is to listen.  To give the other person time to fully explain.  It is their time to speak; your  time will come.

“If we were meant to talk more than listen; we would have been born with two tongues and one ear!” – Mark Twain

2. Try to put the other person at ease

The more relaxed the other person is; the more willing they will be to talk.  The goal is to invite the other party to “tell their story”.  What do they really want us to know?  You want to make the other person feel that you are “with them”.  That you are really trying to listen and to understand.

a. Look at them – eye to eye.  Maintaining eye contact helps to send the message that you want to listen.

b. Nod, use small gestures or quietly say things that tell the speaker that you are with them.  If you are “with” each other – the conversation will continue.

3. Be patient

Silence is a good thing!  Just because the other person has stopped talking does not mean they have stopped thinking.  There may well be more information to come.  Perhaps they are just organising their thoughts.  Using patience can be a sign of respect.  You are waiting… are wanting to hear more.  Let them!  If they  are finished they will tell you.

4. Listen for the big ideas

What is the person really trying to tell you?  What are their big concerns?  What are their hopes? fears? desires?  Go beyond the words.  Try to identify the big ideas.  That is where the productive conversations will occur.

5. Try to be impartial

Not easy to do in the heat of conflict.  But that’s ok, most people are partial.  But use this.  Every time you feel yourself being partial or thinking of something contrary.  Take it as a signal!  Remind yourself that you don’t want to me doing this.  Not yet.  Refocus on your purpose: to be impartial, to listen, to “be with the other person”.

A final thought

When in a conversation don’t be in a hurry.  Effective resolutions come after all the issues have been put on the table.  After everyone has “told their story”, everyone has listened to “the stories”.  Creating resolutions becomes much easier once everyone understands all the issues.  Understanding issues is a result of effective listening.

Put your time and effort into listening.  It will make finding resolutions that much easier.

Family Mediation: The power of apology

pice 3

Family Mediation: When trust has been damaged.

There are statements I often here during family mediation. “I don’t trust them”.  “There is nothing they can say”.  “That is the most insincere apology I have ever heard”.  How many times have you said, or thought this.  How many times have you given a less than sincere apology.  Just to avoid the conflict.

Sound familiar?  During family mediation and family counselling I frequently hear this.  Statements like these tell me that trust has taken a beating.  For family mediation, restoring at least some level of trust in important.  But how?

Family mediation is not a “magic bullet”.  A mediator cannot restore trust into the relationship.  Only members of the family can do that.  And that starts with someone making an effective apology.

So what is an effective apology?

Start with this.  What is the purpose of your apology.  To avoid conflict? To avoid responsibility?

Or, is your purpose to resolve the conflict in a helpful manner. To restore some level of trust. To open lines of communication.

If your purpose is the second statement. You are on the path to making an effective and powerful apology.  Making a sincere apology can remove roadblocks.  Can lower anxiety and anger.  Can allow for helpful conversations.  Can result in opportunity to create common goals.

Lots of research indicates that a powerful apology has seven components.  There are two keys here.  First, components must be given in order.  Each part depends on the other.  Second, each part of the apology needs to be clearly stated by the speaker.  Then understood by the listener.  Here they are:

Revelation: there is a problem, something happened that created a problem

Recognition: a realization that someone has been hurt, damage to the relationship has been done – either intented or unintended

Responsiveness: a desire to deal with the issue, a time frame is created

Responsibility: take ownership of actions and words, at least part of the issue belongs to me, I did or said something

Remorse: acceptance of hurt feelings, – based on the first four “R’s”

Restitution: offering a meaningful re-payment, giving something back

Reform: providing plan for change, committing to creating change, being part of a solution

Why do effective apologies work?

Giving an effective apology does several things.  It takes strength and courage to admit to errors.  It shows a desire to take responsibility for part of the conflict.  It tells people that you are willing to create change.

Offering an apology can immediately remove a barrier.  It opens the door to helpful conversation.  Often, one or more of the people in conflict are wanting to hear an apology.  Once that is heard, people can become open to discussing issues of importance.

Avoiding issues is usually considered a sign of weakness.  Confronting issues in the spirit of finding solutions can be considered a strength.  It moves the conversation forward.  It moves the focus from what “has” been done, to what “can” be done.


Having family conflicts.  Want more information?

Contact me today at (403) 952-8752, or at


Dispute Mediation: Listening with Empathy

listen 4

DISPUTE MEDIATION: Part Three – What are the benefits of Empathic Listening during the mediation process?

Welcome! This is the third and final blog series about Empathic Listening.  The previous two blogs gave a general overview of skills and then a brief application of those skills.  With this final blog, I will outline benefits of empathic listening.  Benefits for you during a dispute mediation. Benefits to enhance your relationships in general.  As the above quote suggests.  Most people during difficult conversations spend time thinking about how they will respond.  Instead, people should be listening to what the other person is trying to tell them.

Remember, listening with empathy means that you want to “check up” on what you are hearing.  You want to check that you are understanding what is actually being said.  You are checking to confirm the point of view of the other person.  You do this by: paraphrasing, re-stating, clarifying or just being curious about what the other person is saying.  To borrow from Steven Covey; you want to “listen with your heart.”  

Why should I listen with empathy?

I think the question here is: What’s in it for me?  What’s the benefit?  Without being self-centered – these are good questions.  There are lots of “pay-offs” for improving your listening skills.  Especially when you find yourself in conflict.

  • Reduced misunderstandings:  Misunderstanding often leads to more conflict.  Think about it.  How many times have you become angry because you felt misunderstood?  What happens to the communication level?
  • Increased respect:  It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable!  It requires both parties to listen for understanding…….not for blaming.  It is very difficult for people to talk openly when they feel under attack.  When under attack people will start to defend.  When attacking and defending……..what’s happening to the issue(s)?… the understanding?………to the communication?
  • Demonstrated trust: Rather than just going through the motions – listening with the intent to understand demonstrates a willingness to trust.  Trying to understand shows that you are willing to trust and to be trusted. It may be difficult at first…….but…….once a level of trusting and trustworthiness is established, communication will increase.

So, what’s my point?

So, what’s the point of this series?  Empathic listening can be a valuable skill for those involved in a dispute mediation.  It can be valuable and helpful tool to reach a resolution to disputes.  Developing the skill to listen with empathy can help improve any relationship; family, personal or professional.  It only take time, knowledge and commitment.

Remember; when people find themselves in conflict, the usual response is to blame or to defend.  Preferring to listen with the intent to respond.  Next time you are faced with a conflict try to listen to understand.  Listen to understand the other point of view.  Listen to hear their “story”.   It really is a question of respect.  When someone feels respected and listened to….what happens to the conflict may surprise you!


I am a mediator in Medicine Hat.  Please contact me at 403-952-8752, or at

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.