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Recently, I mediated a case in which one party was blunt and forceful to the point of pushiness. The other party, a business owner, didn’t like working with him – he’d been a client of her business –, and she certainly didn’t feel comfortable trying to resolve a conflict with him directly.

As a mediator, however, I was able to moderate the client’s bluntness, and make a safe space for them to resolve the dispute they were in.

Here are some of the techniques I used, from gentle and benign up to blunt and forceful.

  • I started with a gentle and benign technique: I had paper and pens available, and I told the parties that they could take notes while the other person was speaking of things they wanted to say in reply.
  • When the former client interrupted the business owner, I reminded him to make notes and to let me know if I forgot to ask him about them later.
  • When the former client made unkind remarks about the business owner, I pointed out that he’d agreed to the norms I’d set at the start of mediation, including that the conversation would be civil and respectful.
  • When the former client made remarks that were even more unkind, I told him to stop. To not interrupt the business owner. To be polite and courteous.

This client behaved himself after that.

Only occasionally have I had to be any more forceful:

  • In a different mediation, I told the client bluntly and forcefully, in front of the other party, that I had warned him several times about his behavior, and if he did it one more time, the mediation would be over.

As the business owner said to me in private conference, she was really glad that I was there to help them have a productive conversation. She’d grown so uncomfortable with this former client, she’d begun making sure that there was always someone else in the office when he was there.

If you’ve tried to fix a problem in getting along with a coworker, or resolve a conflict with a team member, but you haven’t been successful – that’s when a professional mediator helps. A mediator can moderate power imbalances, facilitate communication between people with different communication styles, and make sure that everyone behaves courteously and respectfully.

In the case between the business owner and former client, I helped the parties resolve the case equitably. If they were going to continue working with each other, I would have helped them include, in their agreement, guidelines for effective and professional interactions with each other. But this agreement ended their business relationship, and they had an agreement that would help them move on – and that meant that the business owner could choose to never work with this particular client again.

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