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  • Tony Bourke

Listening in Mediation

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Listening is a precious communications skill and especially precious during mediation.

At the commencement of the mediation, the disputants will not listen to one another – this

is part of the reason that they are in dispute.

However the mediator will begin the process and ask each disputant to tell their story. One

disputant will start relating their story and the other disputant will reluctantly listen to it –

perhaps if only to refute what has been said. However the fact that the mediator is

intensely listening to the speaker has an effect on the other disputant. Then, when the

speaker finishes his or her story, the mediator carefully retells the story back to the


By this time, the other disputant is in a different frame of mind. The story of the first

disputant has been heard. Now the other disputant is bursting to tell her or his story and

the mediator encourages this to happen. It is a form of ‘getting it off your chest’. The very

fact that they get to tell their story out loud has many effects. It helps them to relax a bit,

they feel more important, they feel somewhat less antagonised and they are glad to have

the other disputant hear their story – probably for the first time.

Once again, the mediator resists the temptation to move on and carefully reflects back the second disputant’s story. By this time, both disputants are still very emotional but they are not quite as emotional as they were before the stories were told. Subconsciously, they have a slightly different

perspective on the dispute. Of course, they do not agree with everything that they have

heard but they have heard something that they did not know or something with a different


Having heard both disputants’ stories in full, the mediator now returns to the first disputant

and, this time, summaries that person’s story before asking “and how did that make you

feel?” There will be some hesitation and then you will hear the core of the dispute “it made

me feel really angry”. The mediator will repeat this back word for word. The mediator will

do exactly the same with the second disputant and will hear the emotional impact of the

dispute on that person too. The mediator has just demonstrated great listening – hearing,

repeating and understanding.

The mediator moves on to the next stages of mediation – Issues, Solutions and Agreement.

During each of these stages, the mediator continues to hear and reflect back everything that

is spoken. It is easy for a mediator to forget to continually summarise what has been said.

This must not happen. Each disputant must feel fairly heard and valued. There is no excuse

for a mediator failing to summarise everything that is said.

Nothing in mediation is more important than the listening that is done by the mediator.

If you cannot listen, you cannot mediate.

Tony Bourke – February 2016 –

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