Daniel Merz, Ph.D.
Generally speaking, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for the purpose of valuing a person’s perspective and avoiding shame and judgment. It’s the ability to identify what someone is thinking or feeling and respond to their thoughts or feelings with appropriate emotion. In mediation the use of empathic statements conveys to clients that the mediator has a respectful understanding of their thoughts and feelings (Gordon, 2015).
When dialog in the mediation process becomes stuck or unproductive, the use of empathic skills can lead to getting the conversation back on a more productive track. Daniel Goleman (1995) contends that empathy takes three forms, Cognitive, Emotional, and Compassionate. Cognitive empathy in Goleman’s view is the ability to understand another person’s way of processing information or thoughts. It is also referred to as perspective taking. A second form of empathy is what Goleman refers to as Emotional empathy. This is the ability to place yourself in another person’s shoes and identify with their feelings or emotions. Affective intimacy is another way of describing emotional intimacy. With Emotional empathy the listener is giving attention to the feelings being expressed behind a person’s verbal statements. With Compassionate empathy the listener is being moved to offer some form of help or support when she/he feels moved by the feelings and emotions being expressed by an individual.
The use of empathy will sustain dialogue during conflict because it has a good chance of keeping parties engaged in the process (Eddy, 2017). On occasion a mediator will encounter parties that engage in high conflict behavior. There can a noticeable atmosphere of tension in the room. Empathic skills used properly can reduce tension and keep parties involved in the mediation process.
Here are two examples of possible mediator statements: