Sometimes in the course of a mediation, a party will express a concern about the nature of the communications with the other party in their ongoing lives. It may very well turn out that someone who feels that he is often misunderstood discovers that he has contributed to the difficulty by expressing himself unclearly or by conveying an emotion that was different than what he felt or wanted to convey. In such a situation, there is the potential for the party who raised the issue to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or worse if the mediator is the one to identify the lack of clarity or the impression the communications made. As a result, I always tread lightly on these issues, as they can make a party feel “blamed”. In general, my approach is to let the parties figure it out themselves, just as I would any other issue in the mediation. This has the benefit of not only avoiding “blame” by the mediator, but it also allows for the party to reflect upon how they are hearing the dialogue. I am often reminded in such mediations that my ear for their dialogue is different than theirs. This is especially so if they have a long relationship: they may in fact share a common shorthand and. because of their experiences with one another, make certain connections which I would not make.
In a recent mediation, it became clear that there was a miscommunication between the parties about an important matter. I asked the listener how he had heard the statement made by the speaker, and asked the speaker what he had meant to say. I then asked each whether they would have changed the way they had expressed themselves or reacted if they had known what the other party meant to say or how the other would hear what they said. The parties suggested and agreed upon ways to avoid such misunderstandings in the future.
After the mediation, I was impressed by an email I received from one of the parties, thanking me for the beneficial mediation. During the mediation he agreed to think about his communications; his email made clear that he recognized that the benefits of his doing so inured directly to himself as well as the other party. He had realized from the mediation that he was not always clear. After the mediation, he paid attention to his interactions with the other party and noted to himself that when he stops to reflect and asks himself what he really wanted to say, that his anger subsides and he is more able to communicate clearly. Thus, he was able to take the results of the mediation and capitalize upon them. He discovered a way not only to make his communications clearer, but also to alleviate his anger, which undoubtedly helped him both feel better and communicate in a manner which would elicit a more positive response.
I was heartened not only by the success of the mediation, but how at least one party had continued to reflect upon the learning from the mediation and to derive additional benefits for both himself and the other party in future interactions. The party’s recognition of how the anger developed and how it subsided clarified why there might sometimes be a miscommunication of emotions in a dialogue. In this case, since the anger dissolved once the party was able to be clear about what he wanted to say, he may have unwittingly been communicating anger at the other party, while in actuality, his anger may have been anger or frustration (at himself or the situation) at not being able to formulate a clear statement. Finding a way to avoid conveying unfelt anger toward the other party is a tremendously beneficial outcome, as it can only foster more positive interactions.