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  • Writer's pictureTemara Willis

Actively listening in mediation

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

The Essence of Active Listening in Mediation

Successful mediation hinges on the ability to listen actively to the other party involved, truly comprehending their wants and needs. It is not merely about being physically present or hearing the words; it requires a deliberate, attentive approach that goes beyond surface-level acknowledgment. This blog post aims to dissect the concept of active listening within the context of mediation, shedding light on its significance and providing practical tips for its effective implementation.

The Superficiality of Passive Listening

Passive listening, the polar opposite of active listening, often falls short in mediation settings. It equates to little more than the act of hearing words without genuine engagement. Think about those times when you were conversing with someone, and it felt as though they were not truly listening to you. They might have interrupted you mid-sentence, failed to allow you to respond, or bypassed your input in favour of expressing their own opinions or feelings. Passive listeners tend to ask minimal questions and, unfortunately, struggle to grasp the full import of what is being conveyed.

In mediation, passive listening can hinder progress and complicate conflict resolution. It perpetuates an unproductive cycle where each party speaks without true understanding, leaving issues unresolved. The question, "Are you even listening to me?" becomes a stark reminder of this disconnect, prompting us to reflect on whether we are truly engaged in the mediation process.

The Transformative Power of Active Listening

Active listening, on the other hand, signifies a profound commitment to being present in the moment. It involves prioritising the conversation, demonstrating attentive body language, posing clarifying questions, and investing both time and energy to comprehend the other party's desires and needs. Active listeners concentrate on the substance of the conversation, not just the words being spoken. They are fully immersed in the exchange, ensuring that every nuance is absorbed and acknowledged.

Implementing Active Listening

To actively listen in mediation, consider the following practical steps:

  1. Face-to-Face Engagement - Position yourself in a manner that directly faces the person speaking and maintain consistent eye contact. This simple gesture conveys your intention to listen and understand.

  2. Avoid Assumptions - Resist the temptation to assume or predict the direction of the conversation. Allow the other party to express themselves fully without jumping to conclusions.

  3. Refrain from Interruptions - Hold back from interjecting or imposing your solutions prematurely. Let the speaker conclude their point before responding.

  4. Ask Clarifying Questions - Prioritise understanding by asking follow-up questions. Seek clarification on any points that appear unclear or require further elaboration.

  5. Silence as a Tool - Embrace moments of silence. You don't always need to fill gaps in the conversation. Silence can provide space for reflection and more meaningful responses.

  6. Unplug and Focus - Eliminate distractions, such as turning off your phone, and direct your undivided attention to the conversation. By doing so, you demonstrate your commitment to active listening.

It's important to recognise that active listening is a choice and a skill that may require practice, particularly if past communication dynamics have perpetuated passive listening. By planning and practising active listening techniques before entering mediation, you can ensure that you are fully engaged in the process, thus optimising its potential for resolution. Active listening is not just a mere act; it is a transformative force that can elevate the effectiveness of mediation and foster profound understanding.

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