Using the Right Words for Mediation and Negotiation

About Donita King, Certified Mediator

I recall one of my first mentors in the legal field advising me to work on changing my language to develop more powerful speech. As a young lawyer, woman, and minority over thirty years ago, in the very conservative insurance and financial services industry; I needed to learn how to make my speech work for me. My mentor gave me a book that started me on the path of not just choosing my words carefully, but consciously choosing subtle but powerful non-offensive words when needed. This simple but effective measure contributed significantly to rapid and positive results in my corporate legal practice. So, when I entered the ADR arena, it was time to work on my language again in two capacities – as a collaborative attorney and negotiator, and as a mediator.

 

I have observed advocates who are not mindful of their words, use counter-productive language when they are sincerely trying to negotiate or develop a mutual agreement or satisfactory resolution. Most of the time they are unaware of what they have said until it is pointed out. Other times they realize they should have chosen language more carefully but are not quite sure how. The problem is that most advocates are skilled gladiators and spend their time, energy, and focus on how to become more so. Many think or feel that it is not necessary to change their language or manner of speech; that just being inoffensive is enough. The fact is that using language – appropriate wording and manner, can greatly assist the advocate in effective and fruitful negotiations. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Daniele Vare: “Diplomacy is letting the other person have your way.”

 

Suggestions for Mediation Advocates:

  1. Avoid language that sounds positional; speak in terms of the parties’ interests.
  2. Avoid blaming language, or language likely to evoke an emotional response at the sacrifice of rationality.
  3. Speak in terms of your client’s needs rather than making demands.
  4. When presenting a point on your client’s behalf, acknowledge something on behalf of the opposing party (a small face-saving item or positive attribute or action).
  5. When the first instinct is to use language that attacks, pause and think of a way to present the same idea, in a more acceptable way. (This may be difficult in the beginning, but becomes much easier with practice.)
  6. When other cultures are involved, research what might be considered rude or offensive in that culture with respect to manner and speech.
  7. Practice-practice-practice!

 

It has long been recognized that an important conflict resolution skill and mediation technique is knowing how to select language that will de-escalate a conflict. An advocate’s awareness of words and phrases that may be counter-productive, and the replacement of these words with more effective language for negotiation or mediation purposes, will greatly improve the potential for successful mediation and resolution.

 

 

Resource:

  1. Using Mediation Language, Coast to Coast Mediation Center, http://www.ctcmediation.com/mediation_language_techniques.htm

 

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Donita King

Ms. King is a member of the Virginia, Pennsylvania, and D.C. State Bars. She also serves as a University of Richmond School of Law Adjunct Professor of Mediation. She previously served on the Virginia Bar Association Joint ADR Council (2015 Chair), and served for several years on the Governor of Virginia’s Interagency Dispute Resolution Council. Ms. King currently serves as a board member of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board by appointment of the Virginia Supreme Court and has been active with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Women in Business as well. Se habla espanol.

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