The A-Z of Mediation: Surroundings

Scott McIver A-Z, Blog

Conflict can be a scary thing. Individuals may be nervous about confrontation, worried about what other people might think, or perhaps apprehensive about knock-on effects. And, if you add in the process of mediation, which people usually have never experienced before, the fear can often be amplified.

As such, we must take steps to make the environment as comfortable, safe, and secure as possible. This will help to remove any nagging doubts or fears, as well as making participants more receptive and open to the possibilities that mediation can bring.

But how do we actually go about setting up the surroundings in this way?

Neutral location
One of the first things that we ask of case referrers is to find a venue away from the participants’ usual working environment. Usually, when talking about workplace mediation, their offices are where the dispute happens. And, if were to carry out the mediation there, it could lead to further arguments, power imbalances, and perhaps bring back stressful feelings and memories. By taking the mediation out to a neutral, third-party location, we are hoping that this can level the playing field, keep them somewhat relaxed, and open up possibilities of seeing different perspectives.

In addition, the last thing you want are colleagues walking past and looking in (taking away the private aspect of mediation) or, even worse, popping their head through the door to say hello!

Quiet location
As well, we would want the venue to be quiet, relaxed and with as little distractions as possible. When you’re asking people to collaborate towards an agreement, one that can take a lot of effort and emotion to get to, you would want them to give their full undivided attention and focus. Outside noises and general activity around the location can both be distracting, which takes them and their focus away from the task at hand.

Two rooms
Many mediators, including ourselves, will also make sure that “a side room” is available, should it be needed. This way, if things start to get too much for one of the participants, whether they get upset or find themselves becoming agitated, the mediator can show them to a different location to cool down. This gives them times to collect themselves and their thoughts, whilst also taking them out of the situation that got them there.

Seating arrangements
In the individual sessions, the mediator and participant will sit facing each other. This ensures that the full focus is on each other and eye contact and body language can be used to build trust and empathy. This can help to make the participant feel comfortable, relaxed, and more willing to participate further in the process by sharing information.

How we position chairs and participants can also help to promote collaboration in the joint sessions, whilst also maintaining a feeling of safety. For example, both participants would face the mediator to remove the feeling of intensity that would otherwise be there if the parties were sat there staring at each other. However, once they do progress to communicating with each other, it is just a slight turn towards each other to do so.

In addition, participants will also need to have space between them, perhaps where a small coffee table might be. This prevents the feeling of being “on top of one another” and can give them a bit of freedom, whilst also protecting against unfortunate accidents where they might knock each other!

And, in co-mediation, it is widely accepted that the two mediators should sit close together and face-on during the process. This sets an example of teamwork and collaboration, one that the participants will hopefully follow in building an agreement.

By following these tips, mediators can help to make the mediation a smoother process, both for the participants and themselves. By doing so, this ensures the best possible chance for a positive outcome at the end of it all.

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