Skills of Mediator in Conflict Management

Skills of Mediator in Conflict Management

In the contemporary world, conflict is a never-ending process that cannot be avoided as a result of natural processes for change and development (Mossman & Mike Sell, 2000).

Therefore, the role of a negotiator in conflict management has never been refuted. Often there is a need for a negotiator, though conflicts can be resolved by those in conflict.

The skill is a basic requirement for a mediator (i.e., negotiator, conciliator, counselor, therapist, or arbitrator) who is called upon to provide assistance in managing conflict constructively.

The necessary skills include communication, human relations, problem-solving, and understanding the surrounding environment.

It is often helpful for the negotiator to have considerable substantive knowledge about the issues around which the conflict centers.

This knowledge enables the mediator to identify possible solutions that might not occur to the conflicting parties and helps them assess proposed solutions more realistically.

The mediator should establish an effective working relationship with conflicting parties so that they will trust the mediator, communicate freely with him/her, and be responsive to his/her suggestions regarding an orderly process for negotiations (Folberg & Taylor, 1984; Kressel, 1985; Kressel & Pruitt, 1985; Rubin, 1981).

Moreover, negotiators are also involved in developing a creative group decision-making process.

This process clarifies the nature of the problems that the conflicting parties are confronting, helps to expand the range of alternatives perceived as available, facilitates realistic assessment of their feasibility and desirability, and helps reach mutually acceptable solutions (Blake & Mouton, 1984; Hare, 1982; Janis & Mann, 1977; Johnson & Johnson, 1987; Zander, 1982).

It is important for the mediator to understand people to assist a conflicting party in making decisions. These skills are obtained from courses attended and experiences gained through the effective handling of conflicts and active listening.

Listening helps the negotiator to hear important information related to conflict, learn a great deal about the other party, and enhance their effectiveness during the mediation process. By listening attentively, every mediation follows some guidelines. These include:

  1. Showing interest in what the other party has to say;
  2. Showing an understanding of their feelings, positions, and underlying issues;
  3. Acknowledging hidden agendas, demands, and priorities (showing understanding does not mean you agree with what was said);
  4. Acknowledging that people like to be listened to, creating a positive atmosphere;
  5. Clarifying issues, understanding the other side’s point of view, and showing respect to the other party’s needs, hopes, and fears; and
  6. Improving the relationship and breaking the cycle of arguments.

The parties involved in a conflict need to combine efforts and necessary skills to handle the conflict effectively (Johnson & Johnson, 2000). These efforts can only be successful if the mediator understands the process and steps to be taken in managing conflict.

Thompson and Nadler (2000) introduced two additional skills required for a good mediator;

  1. analogical reasoning and,
  2. behavioral skill.

Analogical Reasoning

The mediator trying to resolve conflict needs to understand the actions of the conflicting parties, whether they accept or reject the ideas of the other party. Gick and Holyoak (1983) argued that analogical reasoning is the most effective method to resolve conflict.

Analogy is a process of mapping the solution for one problem to the solution for another problem. It is important to understand that solutions from previous problems may be useful and effective in solving the current problem.

This concept is similar to perspectives forwarded by Tjosvold (1998), which explained that those who want to resolve conflict must be able to understand the situation and associate it with past experiences. This is also in line with the subsumption concept (Ausubel, 1963), which explained the association of basic information with new information.

It is similar to the theory of information processing introduced and expanded by researchers like Gagne (1965), Taba (1966), Bruner, Goodnow & Austin (1967), Dan Hashweh (1986), and Esther Gnanamalar (1998).

The main issue brought forward by these researchers was how to conceptualize and internalize all concepts that were previously gathered and understand the existence of a relationship between the old and new information (Esther Gnanamalar, 1998).

Behavioral Skills

Innovative and effective planning capabilities are part of the important foundations for those who want to resolve conflict. It is important to act effectively to invent general strategies that can function to resolve conflict in various conditions. Various strategies were determined to resolve conflict.

Among them, building trust and sharing information is proof that all parties are ready to establish a better situation continuously (Thompson & Nadler, 2000). The second strategy is to ask questions, gathering information when it is hard to build trust.

This information leads to an understanding of valuable issues for both parties, leaving choices behind that will be agreed upon by all parties (Thompson & Nadler, 2000). The third strategy is preparing information, which is useful when the conflicting parties refuse to answer questions.

Most of the time, sharing information is an effective strategy because the party that was given information is psychologically obliged to give back some information.

A negotiator who provides information will usually receive some in return. The goal of this strategy is to gather enough information to maximize the negotiation result for all parties. This strategy is then followed by tabling multiple offers simultaneously.

Based on the reaction of the conflicting parties towards the multiple offers, the negotiator can then make a conclusion on the best solution to resolve the conflict (Thompson & Nadler, 2000).

Ethical Guidelines for Mediators

Every mediator should follow some guidelines in the mediation process. These guidelines are intended to promote public confidence in the mediation process and to be a general guide for mediator conduct. Mediators should be responsible to the parties, the public as well as society. The main ethical guidelines are:

  1. A mediator should protect the integrity and confidentiality of the mediation process. The duty to protect the integrity and confidentiality of the mediation process commences with the first communication to the mediator, is continuous in nature, and does not terminate upon the conclusion of the mediation.
  2. A mediator should explain all focus and other expenses to be charged for the mediation. In some cases, a mediator should perform mediation services at a reduced price or without remuneration.                                           
  3. The mediator should make full disclosure of any known relationships with the parties or their counsel that may affect or give the appearance of affecting the mediator’s neutrality.
  4. A mediator should inform the participants of the mediator’s qualifications and experiences.
  5. A mediator should inform and discuss with the participants the rules and procedures pertaining to the mediation process.                                     
  6. After the parties agree, then the mediator should convene a mediation session subject to the possession of adequate authority to negotiate a settlement, and an adequate amount of time has been reserved by all parties to the mediation.
  7. A mediator should encourage the disclosure of information and should assist the parties in considering the benefits, risks, and alternatives available to them.
  8. A mediator should not give legal or other professional advice to the parties.
  9. A mediator should postpone, recess, or terminate the mediation process if it is apparent to the mediator that the case is appropriate for mediation or one or more of the parties are willing or unable to participate meaningfully in the mediation process.
  10. A mediator should encourage the parties to write all settlement agreements in order to reduce confusion among the parties.

Special Problems with Co-mediators

If your partner tells the disputants what they should do to solve the problem :                     

  • Take a time out and talk with your partner (caucus).                                                                  ‘
  • Intervene and ask the disputants to come up with solutions.
  • Tell your partner not to be a police officer or judge (use with caution).
  • Take over the mediation.                                                                                                       
  • Bring it up in a debriefing mediation meeting.

If your partner takes over and won’t let you talk :

  • Call time out and discuss it with your partner (caucus).
  • Interrupt quietly and say, “May I say something?”                                                                    
  • Talk later with your partner.
  • Bring it up at a debriefing mediation meeting.

If your partner takes sides:

  • Take your partner away and caucus. Talk over the situation privately.
  • Tell your partner not to take sides (use with caution).
  • Take over the mediation.                                                    
  • Discuss it at a debriefing mediation meeting.

Special Problems with Disputants

What to do if disputants don’t talk:

  • Sit closer to the person who won’t talk
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Assure the disputants that mediation is confidential
  • Ask, what will happen if you don’t resolve this dispute in mediation?
  • State what you think their feelings are
  • Ask, would you rather work this out with someone else?

When disputants are not telling the truth:

  • Ask the other disputant to comment.
  • Remind the disputants that they agreed to tell the truth.
  • Put a little bit of pressure on the disputant.
  • Look for third parties. Get agreement from the disputants to get information from the third party.
  • Talk to the person alone: caucus.
  • Tell the person what happens if a disputant is telling a lie.
  • Stop medication and consult (as a last resort).

When disputants present information that cannot be kept confidential:

  • Find out more about the situation.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Caucus: speak with each disputant individually to find out more information.
  • Inform the disputants that you will have to tell the proper authorities.
  • Discuss the situation with the Mediation Program Coordinator, Counselor, and Administrator.

How to deal with MOUs that won’t work:

  • Ask the weaker person, “Do you really want to agree to this solution?”
  • Ask the disputants, “Do you have any better ideas?”
  • Ask, what will happen if you make this agreement?”
  • Ask if they would agree to another solution. Suggest one or more.
  • Talk privately with each disputant in the caucus.                           
  • Reality test the MOU

Disputants who are different from you:

  • Encourage the disputants to recognize their concerns and discuss them.
  • Recognize the differences and (inside yourself) asses the possible consequences.
  • Ask the disputants, “How do you think our differences affect the mediation process?
  • Say, sometimes people who are different from one another have difficulty communicating.
  • Ask, how do you feel about my being different (race, religion, nationality, sex) from you?