As a 26-year professional in the conflict resolution field, I use questions as a primary tool in work as a mediator and facilitator. Asking questions allows me not only to clarify the issues (finding out what’s really on someone’s mind or what that person really wants or needs), but also to direct the conversation into productive paths when impasse looms and/or when people need to evaluate the consequences of reaching an agreement (or not). Mediators with other styles than my preferred facilitative style often tell parties what they should do or give opinions on the strength of a particular party’s case – usually to move a party or parties to reaching a resolution. Not only is that not my preferred style; I don’t think that is what a mediator or facilitator ought to do. We don’t own the process – the parties do! If they have a need to be told what to do, they can go to court, and a judge will provide that service. If they want an evaluation of their case, they should seek the advice of an attorney. They come to us so that they can be empowered to advance their own causes and find their own resolutions.
If I privately question the strength of a party’s case, I will ask questions to help him/her think about that. Here is an example illustrating this point:
Some years ago, I was mediating a case in small claims court that involved a contract dispute between two businessmen. The contract involved both written and verbal elements. One party was convinced his massive stack of paperwork would prove his case to the magistrate. (I knew from experience that the magistrate would never sort through all of […]