Reflecting Feelings and Interests — A Mediation Study

2015-08-16 10.19.03
Reflection (Photo by Marilyn Swanson)

By Donald L. Swanson

A 2016 report on a mediation study looks at how a mediator reacts with participants.  Specifically, the study evaluates what happens when a mediator:

–reflects back to participants what the participants themselves express
–focuses on a participant’s feelings/emotions
–focuses on a participant’s underlying interests.


When a mediator does such things, participants report an increased sense of:

–the other side taking responsibility and apologizing
–self-efficacy (ability to talk and make a difference)
–the court caring about their case
–an ability to deal with conflict
–a desire to understand the other participants.

The Study’s Conclusion

Accordingly, the study reaches this conclusion:

–Mediation strategies that reflect participants’ feelings and interests are best able to achieve the goals of building better understanding and supporting self-determination.

Consistent With Experience

Such findings and conclusion seem right.

Many years ago, for example, during my first-ever mediation training, I’m in a mediation role-play. I’m playing the mediator and am running numbers from hypothetical facts. The terms of a possible settlement seem obvious. And I’m pursuing those terms.

A social worker with extensive mediation experience is in my group, getting continuing education credits. She’s obviously uncomfortable with my performance and finally blurts out, “No, no, no! You’ve got it wrong! You’re focusing too much on the facts and ignoring their feelings.”

I don’t say anything but am thinking something like, “Hrumph! Don’t give me this touchy-freely crap!”

She says, “Let me show you,” and takes over the mediator role.

As I watch, my attitude changes quickly. Her experience and expertise become obvious.

She focuses-in on finding and reflecting the emotions and underlying interests of the parties and then gets to what’s really driving the conflict. This eases the path to a solution that the role-playing parties identify for themselves.

At the conclusion of the role-play, I have a newly-imposed sense of humility and a clear recognition that this seasoned mediator knows what she’s doing.

** If you find this article of value, please feel free to share. If you’d like to discuss, let me know.

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