No matter what kind of problem you’re going to mediate, you need to have some basic negotiation skills in order to insure a successful outcome. Mediation is a process that encourages back and forth conversations. It is not a situation where you sit at a table and you say I want X, the other person says I want Y, and miraculously you agree to Z. To be able to get from the point where you each demand what you want, to a mutually satisfying outcome that works for both of you takes some skill and forethought.
Here are 10 tips to keep in mind to help you stay on track, as well as keep emotions in check when coming to the mediation table:
1. Come prepared – It’s helpful to begin the negotiation process with a checklist of what you believe the key issues to be, what you want out of the process and what you’re willing to give up. And be willing to back up your arguments. Using real numbers, photos, or other documents always lends credibility to an argument and helps focus the discussion.
2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes – It pays to try to see things through the other person’s eyes. Not only will it help you understand what a fair compromise might be, but it will help you really grasp what is motivating that person. If you can understand his or her motivation, you can move more quickly to a compromise that answers that concern.
3. Separate out interests from positions – If you see that you and the other person have a basic difference in how you view the problem, take some time to figure out what the underlying interests are. For example, let’s say that your spouse argues emphatically, “I need $3,500 every month from you for maintenance!” You’re reaction is to argue back about the amount, and then the fight begins. But, if you were to stop and ask about the underlying need or interest that motivated the request, you might learn that your spouse is fearful about his ability to secure steady employment after divorce and he feels he needs time and resources to get back on his feet after taking a break from the workforce. With that information, the two of you can craft an agreement that is more economical and satisfying for both of you.
4. Take a break – If you come to mediation to deal with all the issues involved in a divorce or caregiving situation, it can be overwhelming. Tackle one small issue at a time and don’t try to solve everything at once. All the small decisions will add up to a big solution as you work through the process.
5. Consider alternatives – If you both sit there and insist only your one solution will work, you won’t achieve anything. You must think creatively and outside the box whenever possible. Be prepared to brainstorm and consider solutions that never occurred to you before.
6. Barter for what you want – Ultimately, mediation is about honesty and respect, but if you both come to the table with immovable positions, there is nowhere to go. It’s often best to approach a negotiation by asking for a little more than what you what you want so you have some room to negotiate down.
7. Stand up for yourself – Be flexible, be willing to yield, but also know what your bottom line is and remain firm. The goal is to insure that everyone walks away from the process feeling heard and feeling like they’ve reached an agreement that is fair and equitable.
8. Don’t be confrontational – Use language at the mediation table that is non-confrontational and invites discussion. If you act and sound like you’re not going to give an inch, the other person will see no reason to waste time trying to convince you. And watch the body language! Use body language that is open and accessible. If you sit leaning back in your chair with your arms crossed, you send the message that you’re not willing to compromise. If instead, you sit upright with your hands on your lap or the table, you make it clear you’re willing to try.
9. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings – This is often the single hardest thing to do when you’re engaged in a conflict with another party, but acknowledging someone’s anger or hurt feelings is perhaps the one thing you can do that will have the greatest positive impact. A simple acknowledgment or apology, if called for, can often break through an impasse very quickly.
10. Stop keeping score – Keep in mind that the process is not about who wins and who loses. Rather, it’s about arriving at an equitable settlement so each of you can move forward in your lives as soon as possible. If you focus on who won this round or that round, you will keep yourselves engaged in a no-win battle. Focus instead on moving forward with integrity, and everybody wins.