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Skills for mediating

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

The ability to mediate becomes more and more valuable in our complex world. "Either or thinking" works less and less when there are so many things that affect conflicts we have at home and out in the world. When the world is complex, the solutions need to be so too.

We (me and Liv) have studied, practiced and taught mediation for over 20 years. Here are some tips for learning the skills a mediator needs.

We have identified how a conversation based on reciprocity is done, what is needed for it to arise, and what challenges are most likely to be encountered.

Based on this, we have developed an educational model where we train on the abilities and knowledge needed to succeed in this.

Mediation is quite complicated in its entirety, but if you break it down to "doable" steps, it will not be so difficult to learn how to mediate. Once you have learned the parts, you can start adding these together into steps. When the steps are in place, you can start working with the whole that is to help two parties to talk in a way where both are helped to express what is important to them and also take in the other party's perspective. Once this is done, it will be easier to come up with solutions or agreements that are sustainable both in substance and in relation.

Skills a mediator needs:

  1. The ability to translate expressions (that otherwise might create resistance), into expressions that create connection.

  2. Ability to help the parties hear each other, even when they do not seem to be able or willing.

  3. Ability to protect the connection between the parties through different ways of interrupting or focusing.

  4. To help the parties feel understood in their "burning" reactions.

  5. Being able to deal with one's own reactions (fears, judgments, ambiguities, etc.) as a mediator

  6. Being able to keep track of all the threads in the conversation, looping back so that nothing is forgotten.

1: The ability to translate expressions that create resistance to expressions that create connection.

In a conflict, it is easy to fall back to one´s "lowest level" i.e. you say and do not act from their best self. It is then easy to express oneself in a way that is one-sided and sometimes downright painful for the other party to hear. It is easy for us, despite good intent, to refer to threats, demands, guilt. We try to stand up for something that is important to us, but in a way that often makes it harder to get what we want, or we get it but may have to pay for it.

The ability to hear the good intent and be able to reformulate what is said is one of the important skills a mediator needs. In this way, the mediator can show care both for the person who expresses her or himself and for the person who will receive the message.

2: Ability to help the parties hear each other, even when they do not seem to be able to or willing.

Especially in charged situations, it is easy for us to express ourselves but without ensuring that the other party can receive the message we just sent. A good mediator makes sure that the parties give "receipts" of what they heard and understood, to ensure that the messages are delivered. Many conflicts are more about misunderstandings than about people not wanting to cooperate or resolve things. The knowledge of asking for receipts is a real treasure as a mediatior.

3: Ability to protect the connection between the parties through different ways of interrupting.

To interrupt someone who talks is often considered impolite in Sweden, therefore it is easy for us to let each other say more things than is fruitful in a conflict. It's not a good idea to "get things said" if it creates more problems. It is, then, more practical to 'get things said' in ways that solve problems rather than make things worse. That's one thing a mediator should keep an eye on, what helps right now and what doesn't help? Like a traffic police who controls traffic when the traffic lights are out of order, the mediator interrupts so that everyone can say what needs to be said. If two talk at the same time, there is a great risk that no one will hear the other and both will feel less understood afterwards. (A bit like everyone drives into the intersection at the same time, crashing their cars without arriving at their destination.) The mediator needs to be able to step out of the social norm - "to let people finish/you shouldn't interrupt" - to protect the parties and their ability to solve a problem.

4: Helping parties feel understood in their "burning" reactions

Sometimes reactions "burn", maybe you have reached your limit and the emotions overflow. Then it's nice when the mediator can have warmth when hearing reactions without, letting them take over the mediation. To be able to offer "first aid understanding" in the middle of the conversation, for example, sounds like you are really frustrated and want your perspective also be taken into consideration? gives a little understanding and sometimes helps the party to be able to go back to hearing the other for a while more. The mediator wants to help the parties understand each other, sometimes both parties want to be understood at the same time and no one seems to have the ability or the will to understand the other. In these situations, the mediator has a variety of choices to make, depending on various factors. Being able to offer "first aid understanding" can be what saves the day. The conversation can be held at a manageable level, rather than it barking away and becomes so emotional that no one is able to take the next step.

5: Being able to handle your own reactions and judgments as a mediator

What do you do as a mediator if the parties say things like, you seem to be attending her errands or it's probably your job to solve this, you're the mediator!

Being able to hear yourself is an important part for a mediator. The parties you are going to mediate between rarely have as a focus to give you care or understanding. They are more preoccupied with themselves and what they want to get out of the conversation.

When I can't hear myself, I want you to hear me!

As a mediator, I need to take care of myself so That I can help others. My everyday life needs to be nourishing. That I come to a mediation conversation rested, nourished both with food, fellowship and love. It makes a big difference if the mediator feels nourished and has the energy to give, rather than that one wants to be seen as skilled or competent. Better to be good and competent.

There is a difference between wanting to be seen as good and competent and being good and competent...

6: Being able to keep track of all the threads in the conversation, looping back so that nothing is forgotten.

We call this ability "tracking." It can be likened to the ability to try to have a conversation with your partner while being interrupted by questions from the children, the phone rings. Being able to get back to the conversation where it was left is a challenge but important.

Hope this helps you get a idea of what kind of tools we teach in our mediation trainings.


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