Published on July 10, 2024

Active Listening

Mediation offers a structured environment where conflicting parties can negotiate their differences with the assistance of a mediator, as neutral third party. Preparing for mediation is a critical step in ensuring disputes are resolved effectively.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

The goal of mediation is to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement without resorting to litigation, which can be costly, time-consuming and adversarial. Making sure you are prepared ensures that all parties come to the table ready to engage constructively, increasing the chances of a successful resolution.

The process of preparing for mediation involves more than just understanding the issues or dispute at hand. It involves preparing yourself emotionally and strategically, so that you can effectively communicate your goals, whilst considering the potential needs and concession of the other person and wider family, without being emotionally derailed or triggered.

In mediation effective communication is the key, and in this article I am going to focus on some top tips for how to actively listen to what is being said. “Active listening” is crucial in mediation because it fosters mutual understanding and trust between the people involved and can help move people beyond their entrenched positions, which is essential for finding common ground and developing solutions that are acceptable to all.

Active listening is a communication technique that involves fully concentrating, understanding, responding and remembering what is being said. It goes beyond simply hearing the words of the speaker to truly engaging with the content and intent of their message.

Set out below are the key elements of active listening:-

  1. Paying full attention:
    1. Focus: Give the speaker your undivided attention. This means putting away distractions like phones these should be off in any event and maintaining eye contact.
    1. Body language: Use open and inviting body language, such as nodding, leaning slightly forward and maintaining a relaxed posture.
  2. Understanding:
    1. Listen to understand, not to respond: Concentrate on the speaker’s message rather than formulating your reply while they are still talking.
    1. Interpretation: Understand both the content (what is being said) and the emotion behind it (how it is being said). Pay attention to tone, pace and body language.
  3. Responding Thoughtfully:
    1. Avoid accusatory language: Even if you disagree, it is best to try and be respectful and to avoid rejecting out of hand what is being said. It can help to ask questions to better understand what is being said. However much you are tempted avoid saying things like: “You are wrong” or “that’s a stupid idea”: these are unlikely to help to advance the conversation or to get engagement from the other person. Put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would feel if these things were said to you.
    1. Paraphrasing: It can also help to repeat what the speaker has said in your own words to confirm understanding. For example, “So what you’re saying is…”
  4. Retention and Recall:
    1. Remembering: Make a conscious effort to remember key points of the conversation. This helps when following up on topics discussed and shows the speaker that you value what they have shared you can always make notes whilst the other person is speaking if you are worried about forgetting what they have said.
  5. Prejudices and biases:
  6. Avoid making assumptions about what the other person is thinking: these are likely to be wrong and will distract you from focusing on what the other person is actually saying.
  7. Emotional reactions:
    1. Strong emotions can distract you from fully engaging with the speaker’s message: it is important to think in advance of the mediation how you will deal with strong emotional feelings during mediation and think about techniques you might employ to calm yourself. A mediator will always allow you to take a break if you need some “time-out” to calm your nerves. It can also help to take some notes whilst the other person is speaking so that you can recall what they are saying this is particularly helpful if you think that your nerves will get in the way of you being able to take in everything they are saying.
  8. Interruptions:
    1. Try and avoid interrupting the speaker or thinking about your response while they are talking as this will disrupt active listening. As mentioned above, if you are worried that you are going to forget what you want to say, jot it down whilst the other person is talking.

Active listening is an invaluable skill for a successful mediation: By listening you will better understand what is important to the other person, and that will enable you to better respond to them with your own perspective on the issues.

You can find out more about the author Rebekah Gershuny HERE.

You maybe interested to read ‘What Is Hybrid Mediation?’

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The Early Days Of Separation

Humans are designed to cope with many onslaughts, but change continues to prove extremely challenging. How you manage the early days of separation or divorce has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the process.

When couples separate, they are often thrown into a period of uncertainty. Identities are changing from couple to single, from mum and dad together as a family unit to mum with children and dad with children. Depending on the circumstances and who decides to leave the family home, there are many questions that arise during the early days of separation. “Will we have to sell our home?” “I haven’t worked since we had children – how will we manage financially?” “What will our friends and family think?” “How much will divorce cost?”
“Will I cope on my own?” There seems to be so much to sort out both practically and emotionally and it comes at a time when at least one of you will be ‘all over the place’ emotionally due to the loss you are experiencing. This can make decision-making seem impossible. Who wants to agree the practicalities of legal issues and more importantly organise the children when they are devastated, angry and confused by loss? It can turn otherwise rational, clear-thinking mums and dads into what appears to be belligerent, stubborn, unreasonable people.

Take Your Time!

In those early days of separation or divorce, take your time if you can. Seek support from friends, family and professionals. Try not to make any big decisions too quickly.
Bear in mind that communication problems with your ex and all the pressures on family life you are now experiencing, like for many separating couples, will get better with time. It’s important to recognise that you and your ex will more than likely be in very different emotional places at the moment; different stress levels and anxieties will be making communication difficult. Taking the time to sometimes do nothing, to not react, give things a day or two, can prove very useful techniques.
What you have to remember is that if you have children, your ex is always going to be part of your life. That can be hard to take on board when you are feeling hurt and angry. If you can find a way to communicate with each other that focuses on the children, you will all benefit in the years to come.

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