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Asking Parties for Feedback

Asking Parties for Feedback

How can mediators approach asking for feedback from parties?

 

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Well, I think the same question is helpful. The parties have a particular set of interests. What their interests are – I want this to be over and settled, so that I don’t have to worry about it and spend any more money on it. But I want to be able to explain it to everybody else, and I want them to be sorry, hurting, understand how horrible this was for me and the impact it’s had, whatever it would be. It depends on the particular dispute.

 

Their assessment of your performance often is, ‘To what extent did this mediator help me achieve my purposes and my interest?’ Some of that is process interest. So, often they will have really helpful things, when I have asked them that question. I will ask it periodically throughout. Sometimes what I do is I’ll ask – we often have multiple conversations, sessions.

 

So, often I’ll ask them privately just it will be helpful for me to do a quick check in with you and maybe I’ll do it on an index card or maybe we’ll do it as a quick conversation. This is one-on-one if it’s a conversation. ‘It’s helpful for me to know, is there one thing you’re particularly appreciating about this process or how we’re handling it and what’s one thing you would suggest I might change that would be helpful, that you think would move us in the right direction?’ And I don’t say helpful to you, I say, ‘that would move us in the right direction.’

 

And if I ask the parties, whether it’s both or all, that’s multi-party, that question, just having them jot down on an index card and give it to me at the end of the day, it gives me a window into what’s going on with them. Whether I agree with it or not, it’s what’s in their internal voice.

 

It’s a coaching question. What coaching do you have for me? What’s one thing you suggest I might change?

 

Now, the temptation, I think, for all of us, is to ask an evaluation question, ‘How am I doing?’ This is the coaching I have for a lot of the way feedback is setup right now, which is about evaluation. ‘How many stars do you give this mediator,’ right? Or at Apple, which we’ve done a little bit of work with, they have an app, of course, for leaders, and the app taps, you can decide to tap a few team members at any point in the process. They use it. But the question that it asks is, ‘How am I doing as a leader?’

 

I said, ‘Well, this is great that you have an app and you’re using it but it’s asking the wrong question, because if I find out how am I doing is two stars out of five, that doesn’t tell me what to change. It should be asking, ‘What’s one thing you can appreciate, that I should keep doing and what’s one thing you would suggest that I change?” That, you don’t have to agree, but that would at least give you more useful information because it would give you coaching, not evaluation. And it feels less threatening too, by the way.

About the mediator

Sheila Heen Mediator Harvard

Sheila is an experienced negotiator and mediator and a Founder of Triad Consulting Group. Sheila is also a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School and has spent the last twenty years with the Harvard Negotiation Project, developing negotiation theory and practice. She specializes in particularly difficult negotiations – where emotions run high and relationships become strained. Sheila is co-author of the New York Times Business Bestsellers Dif... View Mediator