Being new to the field of Family Mediation, I am always on the lookout for strategies that will improve my skills. While taking Basic and Advanced ADR training, it became very clear that effective questioning was a crucial factor in determining the success of a mediated agreement.
However, it was during the Riverdale Mediation’s Basic Family Mediation course that I found information to assist me in crafting those all important questions.
The art of questioning is one of the skills I would like to master. Creating open ended questions paired with active listening to find out who has the power, what is driving the conflict, and in Hilary’s words, “finding the reasonable reason behind the position” helps to explore the parties’ interests and find common ground. The thread of the questions directs the process and defines the issues as problems to be solved. This opens up the possibility of a different perspective, revealing shared interests. Questions can also validate feelings, de-escalate strong emotions, redirect remarks from blame or judgment and dig to elicit important information or clarify inconsistencies.
Each client brings unique issues, interests, relationships and goals to the table that must be clarified as thoroughly as possible before the first session. Having information at one’s fingertips, through question preparation, ensures that the session will proceed smoothly. It can also be somewhat disconcerting when conducting a mediation session to be faced with conflicting or surprising information that emerges during the conversation. It can be difficult to frame questions spontaneously so that they are not biased or judgmental.
Spending the time to become familiar with the specifics of each case and preparing appropriate questions is well worth the peace of mind that results from having the information at hand. Because preparation is so important, I designed a session planning template from the information I received in the Family Mediation course to structure the questions, based on information collected during the intake and screening sessions.
The template also includes a summary of the mediation introduction and process, and general questions/comments that could move the process forward. I keep these nearby, printed in a large font with key words in bold print, for a quick glance in case I get stuck during a session. Completing the question framework before the session familiarizes me with the issues and allows me to explore possible interests. It gives me confidence to be able to proceed even when faced with additional information that brings a new twist to the discussion.
Judy has been a teacher since 1972, the last twelve years as an elementary school principal, both in Toronto and the Huntsville area. She took her first ADR course in 2004 to improve her mediation and negotiation skills, taking the advanced course in 2009. As a principal, many opportunities presented themselves to develop these skills. She has retired from teaching and is currently fulfilling the required qualifications to become a Family Mediator and a full member of OAFM.