May 18, 2024

Mediation EI Enhancer #2:  Praising Participants 

Emotional intelligence is one of the most underrated and overlooked characteristics of a good mediator.  Negotiations are built on trust and emotional intelligence is the foundation of trust.  Yet so many mediators neglect emotional intelligence.  In this 5-part series, we’ll be exploring ways EI can enhance mediation. 

The next “EI Enhancer” in mediation (for #1, click here) is doing something very simple:  encouraging and complimenting the participants.   

Some of the best mediators are the ones who consistently stay positive, encourage participants, and compliment them (and their lawyers) along the way.  These of course are all emotional intelligence staples, yet too many mediators overlook these or ignore them altogether.  

I was wearing my lawyer hat at a mediation recently (as a litigator), where the mediator didn’t offer a single word of encouragement or compliment to the folks in our room the entire day for over 9 hours.  Assuming this went on in the other room as well, no wonder the mediation ended without a settlement!  More importantly,  the mediation was a miserable experience.  We’ll never use this mediator again.  But this mediator is not alone.  Other mediators might sprinkle one or two compliments and words of encouragement in an all-day mediation in an effort to be likable, but they miss a lot of opportunities to praise and encourage the participants for a good brief, good argument, good policy, good contract, nice hair, good taste in mediators, good choice in counsel—really anything…. 

You don’t have to be an emotional intelligence expert to know that a mediation that is focused primarily on negative reinforcement or on critique is not going to set the table to get a deal done.  As lawyers many of us have been trained to keep the emotions out of a dispute or legal problem and to objectively evaluate the facts and evidence.  While objectivity is important, ignoring emotions is not the same as effectively managing them.  Everyone, even lawyers, are emotional beings driven far more by emotional dynamics than we like to let on.  A healthy dose of encouragement, empathy, and authentic praise can go a long way in mediation.       

Giving meaningful compliments is one of the easiest and simplest things that mediators can do to improve their chances at settlement, their performance, and their customer service.  But apparently it is very hard for lawyers to give compliments.  And I kind of get that.  Many of us are skeptics or ultra-competitive—or maybe a little insecure.  This just means we need to work on it and be mindful because it won’t come naturally.  And hey, the profession and the world could use this anyway.  

Continue to Part 3 of the series...

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