What to Say in Mediation to Have a Positive Outcome

what to say in mediation

By Ellen Feldman, Attorney and Divorce Mediator

Wondering what to say in mediation? I have been co-mediating with Brian James for over 16 years and unfortunately, we have heard statements people make to their spouse that are offensive, mean, and that ultimately undermine the mediation process.

On a positive note, Brian and I have also heard our clients say wonderful things—things that are kind and thoughtful and productive, and that help make the process smoother and so much more effective. It’s not always easy to be nice during mediation, given the anger and resentment you might have towards your soon-to-be-ex, or the fear you are experiencing about the future. Just know that kindness in mediation leads to a more amicable, friendly, and productive process, as well as a better post-divorce life for both you and your children.

Wondering what to say in mediation? Try these 6 things:

1. I am sorry I did that. I feel badly. I hope you will forgive me.

You are not saying you want to stay married.  Rather you are owning your behavior and giving the other person space to forgive you and move on.  When people apologize, it lets the other person’s defenses down, and the whole picture of what the communication looks like can change for the better. When apologized to, people feel so validated and it opens their hearts and minds to listen to the other person, to have a conversation without yelling, and to be more receptive to the other’s ideas and suggestions. After an apology, hopefully you can begin to address the issues that are most important to each of you in mediation and moving forward in the process.

2. That might be a good idea. Let me think about it. Tell me more about your thoughts.

A compliment goes a long way towards progress in mediation. You are telling the other person you respect them, you understand what they are saying and it makes sense. Then you can go on to give them your opinion when they are more open to hearing what you have to say. Even if you do not totally agree with their position, you are acknowledging that they made an attempt at resolving an issue that needs to be decided to move forward.

3. I hear what you are saying. I understand your position.

By saying these things, you are validating the other person’s feelings. You want them to believe you are hearing what they are saying and that it makes sense to you.  Then you can go on to tell them your opinion or your idea about how to resolve an issue.  They will be more open to hearing what you have to say because you have given them a compliment and told them you hear them.


Bridging the Gap Between Conflict and Resolution


4. You are welcome to sleep at my house on Christmas Eve or come to open gifts and have breakfast on Christmas morning.

One of the biggest things people fight about is Christmas Eve overnight and waking up Christmas morning with the children. Often one of the spouses is crying when we have this conversation. “I make Christmas The children need to be at my house.” (their childhood home, their home, the house – all things designed to make the other person feel their house is not the children’s home or as important)Clearly, new traditions can be established as they necessarily will as people get divorced and create new memories for their children. Even if the person says no or has no intention of spending the night or showing up for Christmas morning, they can hopefully still appreciate the kind gesture and the offer being made.

5. Let’s focus on our children and the best schedule for them.

Whether the schedule proposed actually has the children’s best interests at heart, the other parent hears that you are trying to focus on what is best for the children. Then you can tweak what they are suggesting or offer a different way to look at the weekly schedule, but they hear it in a more positive light. This suggests you are considering their priorities, the children’s activities, your work schedules and where the children would be most comfortable for homework, spending the night and getting through the school week in the least disruptive way. It is all in the presentation.



6. I appreciate your position and I would like to propose something a little different.

This is another way of acknowledging that the person has a good idea, validating that you hear them but offering another idea that may move you towards resolution of an issue. They hear you being positive, rather than negative, and will not hear what you say as an attack.

Our job as mediators is to reframe, restate what someone has said, explain someone’s position so that the other person can hear what is being offered.  When people are in mediation, they know how to push the other person’s buttons, aggravate them and put them on the defensive. How much nicer if they could say things in a positive way so that their spouse thinks they are being cooperative and willing to negotiate. It would go a long way towards making progress and moving forward in mediation.

Ellen Feldman, Divorce Mediator

Ellen Feldman has been working as a mediator  since 2007. A graduate of Smith College and Indiana University School of Law, Feldman previously worked as an attorney for 15 years practicing commercial litigation. Since 2006, Ellen has been a volunteer for The Lilac Tree, an Evanston based nonprofit organization assisting women through the process of divorce. Additionally, Feldman completed Family and Divorce Mediation Training through DePaul University Center for Conflict Resolution and Advanced Family Mediation. She is a court-approved mediator for the 19th Judicial Circuit Family Court of Lake County. Learn more by visiting the C.E.L. & Associates website.

Like this article? Check out, “What NOT to Say in Mediation”

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