Reliance on Speaking in Mediation – Does it Disadvantage People?

Whether or not we entirely agree with Albert Merhabian about what proportion of words, verbal tone or body language make up communication, I think that we’d recognise that conflict is often expressed in terms of tone of voice and physical expression.


We may want to reflect on the fact that conflict resolution is often dependant on the tone parties use in the open discussion stage and words used in formulating agreement – i.e. it’s often written down. I hope to expand on this and its implications for mediation in later posts. Right now I’d like to think a bit about the impact of this in companies and mediators wish to promote diversity and, of course, meet the expectations of equalities legislation. 

I recently mediated in some difficulties experience by two colleagues with a long, and sadly unhappy, working relationship. Jo and Chris (not their real names) had worked together for nearly 6 years, had never really got on but recently things had got really difficult with the resulting fall out having a serious impact on the business, customers and morale of the team. Not an unfamiliar story. 

 Where things got a little tricky in terms of mediation was the markedly different needs of the parties in relation to the mediation session itself. Chris was very talkative and verbally adept, confidently expressing herself and highly analytical in what she saw was the cause of the problem. Jo was partially-sighted, more introverted in style and spoke little. Their highly different approach to speech and conversation was highly marked and it was a challenge to maintain a level of balance in the conversation. It would have been very difficult to decide how much time and encouragement Jo needed to express herself to match what Chris had said. Generally it seemed that Chris just had the “bigger guns” and I would guess that this how it had been throughout their working relationship. Chris style was perfectly reasonable – she just spoke more in a process which relies on speaking.

Of course I maintained my impartiality but I’ll acknowledge it was a challenge. When it came to exploring each party’s needs and interests, Chris had hers to hand whilst Jo struggled to express them. I’d be delighted if any other mediators have an answer to this?

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