Putting People’s Words in Their Mouth

Never tell people what to say when serving as a mediator. However, you can ask them to say what they said. Wait… what?

Let’s join a mediation between Kimberly, the Executive Director, and Victor, the Deputy Director. These nonprofit leaders need help to repair their working relationship. While many issues are on the agenda, we’ll focus on one for simplicity.

Kimberly increased her oversight after Victor’s team flubbed a deadline and lost a small grant. He resents this and asserts she should hold him accountable for high-level results rather than being entangled in minutia. Although they’ve made some progress, towering cumulonimbus clouds appear, and darkness descends.

I meet with each privately. In this caucus, I recap and ask how each feels about the impasse. Kimberly and Victor reiterate their complaints and frustrations. But, invariably, slim rays of sunlight peek through.

At the end of a run-on paragraph about Kimberly’s micromanagement, Victor says, “…for someone so talented at leading a nonprofit, I’m amazed she doesn’t understand the value of allowing her second-in-command to run his department.”

I ask him to expound on the ‘talents’ to which he alluded. At the end of our one-on-one discussion, I summarize his key points:

  1. She’s a talented ED.
  2. You admire what she’s done for the organization and the population you serve.
  3. You generally welcome her input.
  4. It’d be easier to accept her ideas if she presented them in a spirit of discussion rather than as directives.

He affirms everything. Now, back to the “you can ask them to say what they said” storyline.

“Victor, you’ve expressed admiration for Kimberly and see value in collaborating with her to jointly determine what’s best for the organization. Before we split into our one-on-one sessions, things were stuck. Would you share these points when you are together in a joint session?”

Since it can be hard to remember fine points when things get rolling – and potentially tense – again, I encourage him to write down each idea. I also ask him to rehearse and provide him with feedback.

Kimberly and I followed a similar process to glean what she’d share with Victor.

They get together and explore these freshly minted, positive comments and resolution ideas. The tone shifts away from the pre-caucus tensions. Clouds break apart without having precipitated.

Mediators don’t tell people what to say, but we can help them organize their ideas and words so the other person can hear them in ways that foster resolution.

I hope this helps you find the light. As always, In-Accord is here to help. 503-723-9982