In a mediation not long ago, one of the parties was a car dealership, and their client representative was the sales manager. During the day, I asked him what he thought about how the day was going – what his reactions were to what the others had said and demanded, where he thought we were headed. His answer was enlightening: “It’s just like car sales. I just sit and listen and let the customers talk.”
He went on – what they talk about is more important than what they say. If they talk about the amount of the payment, I know monthly cost is their most important issue. If they talk about resale value later, it’s long term impact. If they talk about the look or interior finish, I know cost isn’t so important but how they feel about the car’s impact on their social status.
Once I know those things, I know what to pitch – value or cost or prestige. I’ve got pitches for all of those – and more – but knowing what pitch to throw is more important than throwing that pitch perfectly.
Mediations are similar if not the same – knowing what is important to the participants tells us what pitch should be thrown.
What does knowing mean? Well, it means different things to the mediator and to the participants. The mediator interacts with both participants – but the participants only via the mediator. Filtered through the mediator, the participants must gauge their pitch to the other side.
On the other hand, each participant controls what message – and thus what desired or effective pitch – the mediator receives and will communicate to the other participant.
The takeaway? Plan the feeling you want the other side – and the mediator – to receive, and choose words accordingly. Words matter.