Let’s not sugar coat it. The idea of coming face to face with someone you are in dispute with is no easy thing. Emotions are heightened to a point where even a seemingly innocuous phrase can trigger an unpleasant response to potentially derail proceedings. While it’s true what throws one person may not touch the sides of another, there are some commonly used phrases that when used in mediation have the potential to initiate a negative reaction in the other party – and in the interests of trying to resolve the dispute in mediation, are best avoided all together.
I haven’t done anything wrong
But something has gone wrong, or you wouldn’t be in mediation. You may feel exactly like you haven’t done anything wrong, and that’s a legitimate feeling to have. However, stating that as a very clear position can heap blame on the other party by the simple notion of ‘if it’s not my fault – it must be yours.’ The mediator doesn’t view anyone as being in the wrong and the process is not about assigning blame, but rather collaborating on a practical and workable solution to move on.
Can’t you take a joke?
This is a major red flag phrase in mediation – one that sets just about everyone off. It’s a classic gaslighting move, whereby one person when they have been called on something deflects through denial or blame: It’s not my fault you can’t take a joke. This is a phrase intended to instil self-doubt in the other party (maybe I’m too sensitive). Nothing good will come from using this phrase in mediation or anywhere else.
You need to calm down
Use this phrase and you are guaranteed the opposite will happen and the other party will probably implode with anger. Telling the other party to calm down implies they are not in control of their emotions and that you are, which is humiliating – another negative emotion you are stirring in someone else. If the other party does need to calm down, don’t say anything. At some point, the other party will come to their senses when they realise theirs is the only voice in the room going into overdrive.
You always blame me
We’re not in mediation to assign blame – blame should not be a factor in helping you reach an agreement you can live with and move forward. ‘Always’ statements can lead to dialogue that veers way off topic – especially when the other party facing such an accusation then focuses their efforts on citing examples that counter the accusation. This takes valuable time away from discussion and exploration of the issues and future focus of negotiation in mediation. Mediation is not the appropriate forum to discuss who is to blame.
You’re the one who’s angry
This is not a helpful statement and is likely to inflame the other party and derail the mediation process. Fact is, mostly both parties have experienced anger in the relationship – that’s why there is conflict. Anger is one of many debilitating emotions parties experience leading them to want a resolution to the conflict. Pointing out someone is angry will likely make them angrier – and that is not a mindset you want for a balanced negotiation to take place.
You’re lucky I’m even here
Unless you are in mediation with someone like Jeff Bezos who can afford to go to court forever, most people know that mediation is the most practical and sensible way to resolve a dispute. Using this statement will successfully give the impression the whole mediation exercise is a giant waste of time, as one party has declared they lack an open mind which only goes to make the idea of finding some common ground that much harder.
What’s wrong with you?
The only thing saying this will achieve is to minimise the other party’s feelings – and call them into question. This is a terrible thing to say as it really sideswipes the dialogue and hurls it into completely different territory. Again, it’s a gaslighting move intended to deliver self-doubt to the other party – which can end up in an imbalance of power between parties. The mediator knows this play well and will pull a halt to it immediately.
I’m sorry if…
The timeless sorry not sorry move mostly favoured by politicians and other public figures who are forced to apologise when they don’t think they have done anything requiring an apology. It’s one of the most empty and vacuous statements you can make. If you’re genuinely sorry you don’t say I’m sorry if I upset, you … you say I’m sorry I upset you. The former statement is genuinely interpreted as mean spirited and usually sends the message, I’m not sorry at all. If you are genuinely sorry – it can help in mediation by saying so – sometimes the other party wants an apology more than other forms of compensation. But if you are not sorry – then saying this is much worse than saying nothing at all.
To help you prepare for mediation, we have created a library of helpful information including checklists, tips and added detail around the process of mediation. For useful and relevant information you can download for free, we encourage you to visit our resources page.
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