As a veteran Group Facilitator and Mediator, I often deal with people who are very angry and intemperate with the words they direct toward other parties to the discussion who they perceive to be on the other side of the issue in dispute (or even consider those other people to be the entire cause of the problem). The use of toxic language results in two things that are antithetical to the conflict resolution process. First, it shuts of dialogue between or among the parties. Those on the receiving end of the aggression typically react in kind, and true dialogue is lost. Second, the discussion then becomes focused on the angry discourse between the parties, and issues are not revealed, recorded and discussed. In this situation, the job of the mediator is at least twofold: detoxify the language and, in the process, clarify the real issue(s) for the parties. I have engaged in this activity so much during my career, that I have developed a segment about it that I use whenever I do conflict resolution training.

I will illustrate my methodology by using my favorite example from community mediation. Two neighbors, both men, were in conflict about the perception that one of them (and allegedly others in the neighborhood) were driving too fast (and therefore, unsafely) on residential streets. At the beginning of the mediation session, the man who had the concern turned to the other party and said: “You speed through the neighborhood like a crazy man and don’t care how many kids you kill!” As might be expected, the recipient of this invective recoiled and was about to launch a verbal counterstrike. I held up my hand toward the alleged crazed speeder to forestall his response and said the following to his attacker: “So, you’re concerned about safety in the neighborhood.” He responded, “Well, of course”. I then turned to the other man who had been waiting to verbally engage and asked, “Is safety in the neighborhood a concern for you, too?” As expected, he said that it was. I then noted that the two parties shared a concern and wrote “Safety in the Neighborhood” on the flip chart under the title “Mutual Issues of Concern”. The two men then discussed their viewpoints on that issue, rather than arguing over whether or not one of them was a potential killer. Based on this initial experience, the parties found other issues to discuss, and, after an hour or two, they signed a written agreement.

I have enough other examples toxic statements from my career to allow trainees to spend several minutes on trying their own skills at detoxifying language. I always stress to them that there is no “right answer”. Toxic language can be reframed in many different ways, and it may be masking more than one issue. Nothing is ever as simple as that “perfect example”. The proper management of toxic statements can be the key to success in helping parties find their way to an otherwise elusive agreement.

My strategy for dealing with toxic statements attempts to accomplish several things:

  • Reducing aggressive, non-productive behavior
  • Reducing defensiveness in the party being attacked
  • Clarifying the issue(s) being revealed to me (and often masked for everyone else) by the toxic language
  • Ensuring that everyone feels heard by writing those revealed issues on the flipchart for all to see
  • Allowing the parties to understand that they can at least agree on the issues to be discussed
  • Allowing each person at the table to begin to recognize he/she is a part of the conflict (it’s not just “the other guy’s” fault)

This is not the only skill an experienced conflict resolution professional brings to the table, but it is one of the most crucial – and I use it in every Group Facilitation or Mediation.

By |2:13 pm|Group Facilitation Denver, Mediation|Comments Off on GROUP FACILITATION AND MEDIATION: Detoxifying Language


I have been a Group Facilitator and Mediator for nearly 28 years. When I started in the field in 1987, it was new to me and new to everyone I encountered. I was fortunate to have a sponsor for my training and early years of work in the field in Jefferson County, Colorado. The County retained me as a full-time mediator and facilitator for large land use proposals (mining operations, recreational sites, landfills, hazardous waste sites, etc.). It was a baptism of fire for a conflict resolution professional, but it allowed me to devote all of my professional energies to this fascinating field. As I gained more experience in the field and grew to respect the positive results of the process, I thought that more and more people in all walks of life would come around to using mediation as a way to solve all manner of conflicts. This has happened, but to a much more limited extent than I had hoped. Too many good mediators have left the field because they could not find enough clients. So, I would like to once more make the case for what has been come to be known as alternative dispute resolution or ADR (alternative because it does not follow the typical path of using confrontation in the courts – or other venues – to solve problems).

There are so many reasons for using ADR that I know I will not remember all of them, here. However, all of the reasons are compelling ones. Many of you reading this will probably say: “Why didn’t he list that reason?” All this tells me is that I am right. There is an overpowering need for this process in our world.

  • Group Facilitation and Mediation empower the participants. Typically, decisions are made by consensus, and everyone has buy-in. There is always give and take, but everyone owns some important piece of the solution. If a judge, arbitrator or some other official decision-maker tells everyone what to do, no one has buy-in (or at least, not much), and usually everyone resents the imposed solution.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation are usually faster than other processes. Everyone can wait six months for a court date, or they can schedule mediation or a facilitated discussion for next week. If a solution is reached, a lot of time has been saved. If not, the court date is still there.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation are organized processes. This is especially important for facilitated group meetings. Such a meeting can lose its way without a facilitator. A facilitator makes sure that the meeting has a clear agenda; all topics on the agenda are covered; no one is left out of the discussion; decisions are made in a way the group has previously agreed upon (often by consensus); and an accurate record of the group discussion and decisions is made both during and at the completion of the meeting.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation “expand the pie”. Too often, formal processes limit discussion to one topic or a small group of topics, and the universe of possible solutions is very small. When people all sit down together to talk things through, brainstorming generates new topics for consideration and usually new solutions that are often radically “outside of the box”. I’ve often had judges tell me that the solution reached by parties in a small claims court mediation is one he/she would never have ordered based on interpretation of the law – but it was a great solution.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation save money. It is often possible to engage a mediator before ever filing a court case or hiring an attorney. If parties in conflict decide to hire a mediator early on in their conflict, they can come together to reach agreement an pay only the cost of the mediator, thereby avoiding attorneys’ fees, court costs, and all of the monetary delays caused by the conflict dragging on for months. This is not to say that attorneys and their input to their clients is not often valuable during mediation.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation can save relationships. Meeting together to come to a shared agreement over a conflict is a satisfying process. It allows people to really hear each other and understand other points of view. If friends, neighbors, business colleagues or family members are in conflict, arguments and lawsuits only drive them apart (sometimes forever). Reaching agreement in mediation can remind people of the value of their relationships while resolving their conflict – not to mention learning a new, more positive way of relating to each other.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation provide Access to Justice. A self-represented (“pro se”) party typically feels at a disadvantage as compared to the other person in a dispute who may be represented by an attorney. Pro se parties often find completing and filing court forms to be daunting. I serve on our county’s Access to Justice Committee. There is broad consensus on that committee that mediation is a way for people to get justice, whether or not they have filed a court case.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation feel fair to everyone involved. Over my 28 years in conflict resolution, I have heard from many people who say that their court-imposed settlement was simply “not fair”. However, the parties to a settlement reached in mediation are often not totally happy with the result, but they own the give and take involved in reaching it – and thus perceive it as fair.

As I said, these are only a few reasons to hire a Group Facilitator or Mediator to assist in resolving conflict between two people – or even among two hundred people. If you think you have need for these services to help resolve your conflict, you can contact me, Mark Loye, or call me at (303)704-3808. If you recognize yourself in some of the situations described in this article, I hope to hear from you, soon.

By |9:34 pm|Group Facilitation Denver, Mediation|Comments Off on GROUP FACILITATION AND MEDIATION – WHY?