Silence in Facilitation, Mediation, or any Meeting or Conversation

The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.

In mediation, facilitation, and conversation, silence is an important tool for the mediator or facilitator as well as for the participants. Is the other party an extremely persistent person who refuses to stop interrupting others?

Ronald Kraybill has some suggestions. While his work is with facilitation and mediation, his advice is good for anyone who has to engage in a difficult conversation. Such sessions can be really challenging for everyone. Luckily, there are a few useful strategies that can be used to proceed during such sessions.

First. Remind the participants of ground rules for the session. In a mediation, this would be to speak respectfully and not to interrupt. In a conversation, you might simply state that it is difficult for you to have this discussion if the other person continues to interrupt you. In either case, ask the interrupter directly if they will commit to continuing without interrupting.

Second. Mention ending the session or meeting as a possibility. Such a statement signals how serious this is for you and will often cause the interrupter to stop interrupting or at least to make an effort to interrupt less. 

Third and most important. There is a powerful tool that we can apply to great benefit: strategic use of silence. Silence can be as subtle as short, natural pauses during a sentence. Silently waiting for a response to a question or a request for clarification can be helpful. There’s no guarantee this will work, of course, and if the interrupter continues to interrupt, the facilitator may decide to end the session. If the meeting must be ended, be clear that it is not that you no longer wish to engage in serious discussion, but that the conditions for a respectful conversation are not being met.   

Disputes can be resolved by listening to and respecting each other’s opinions. One step on that path is to work to create an environment where neither person interrupts the other.

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This summary was prepared by Aasma Batool.

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