The end of the semester is drawing near in my online employment mediation dispute class. The theme of the last discussion board is reflective: what three things has each student learned from or skills developed or improved upon in this course.

There is a saying to the effect that as much as students learn from the teacher, the teacher learns from the students. Teaching this course and reading the reflective posts of my students have led me to ponder what skills are needed not only to be a good mediator but also to be a good friend. So, my response to this reflective discussion board would be trust and rapport, empathy, and good listening.

At the start of any mediation, and in any relationship for that matter, it is crucial to build trust and rapport with others. If the other person does not trust you and is not allowed to get to know you, you will succeed neither as a mediator nor as a friend.  To build that trust and rapport, you must engage in small talk, showing your vulnerabilities to some extent and otherwise opening up a little bit about yourself as you would over a cup of coffee with a friend. You must be personable and show that you are likeable.

To do this requires empathy. When someone tells you a story, or about the day she is going through (probably more often bad than good given this pandemic), you must be able to view it from her perspective.  “Empathy“ is the ability to experience someone else’s feelings as opposed to “sympathy” which is more cognitive in nature as being simply the ability to understand someone else’s tale of woe. Empathy is the sharing and understanding of feelings, not just merely their acknowledgement from a distance.  And so, when someone tells you how her day has been, to build that trust and rapport (and thus to build a friendship as well), show that you understand and share her feelings, not just from a cognitive distance but upfront and personal.

Which ties into listening. Listening is perhaps the most important thing we can do. A long time ago, someone said to me that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen more than to speak. Many times, people just need to vent, tell their story, and simply have someone hear and acknowledge what they have said. Through active listening and reframing, we can provide that acknowledgment and indication that the other has been heard and listened to. Many, many, times, a friend just wants to “talk”; to tell her story; she is not asking for advice or to “fix” something; she just wants to be heard. (Men often misunderstand this type of “rapport” talk as being ‘report’ talk or reporting on a problem and then  asking for advice on how to “fix it” aka Men are from Mars, Women Are From Venus.)

And tied into listening is to do so without making assumptions, without biases and with impartiality. That is, with a completely open mind.  To listen without judgment is truly empathetic and ideal for building trust and rapport.

So, if I had to respond to the discussion board for my students, my takeaway from this class is that the three most attributes of both a mediator and a friend are trust and rapport, empathy, and the ability to listen.

… Just something to think about.



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