What Mediators Do: The Reframe

Article by Vinh Do | IODA Member | Mediator and Organization Development Consultant

People often ask me what mediation involves. Why would anyone voluntarily enter into a conversation with another person with whom they have a conflict, they ask. I say: It’s a new opportunity to work things out with that person with the help of a trained third party (“a third ear”) like myself.

I’ll share with you a major thing that I do as a mediator. Full disclosure: it’s a thing all mediators do. It’s called reframing—the process of turning a demand into an interest. When people can talk about interests, they relate to one another better. So, it’s a mediator’s job to reframe a demand into an interest. The reframe allows people in conflict to humanize the person “across the table”.

Demands Are Not Interests
I’ll give examples of both demands and interests. Demands come in the form of statements like “I want a $5000 raise” or “I’d like the title of Manager” or “I need weekends off.” Interests are different and are based on more ingrained needs. They can be security, recognition, and rest, to name a few. If you listen closely to a demand for a raise, you’ll hear an interest in security. If you listen closely to the demand for a title change, you’ll hear an interest in recognition. If you listen for the demand for time off, you’ll hear an interest in rest. Interests have universal appeal.

Interests are Universal
The examples above are simplistic, but they surface as real demands in the workplace. Here’s what to note: conversation gets stuck when demands are made; it’s hard to dialogue with demands. When demands are reframed as interests, people receive information better. For example, if in a meeting with your boss, you say “I want my title changed to Manager” rather than “I’d like more recognition for the work I’m doing… I have some ideas”, which statements would be better received by your boss? My guess would be the second.

Now that you know one of the things that mediators do, I’ll add that reframing is not easy. It’s too easy to be triggered by demands, especially when you’re in a messy conflict and demands are flying across the proverbial room. Consider calling in a mediator.

Interests are Relatable
Here’s another thing to note: when reframing is used, the atmosphere is better to talk about options or negotiation. (Negotiation is a topic for another day.) In this atmosphere, people can better ask for the things that really matters to them—like security, recognition, and rest. In fact, there are many interests because humans are complicated. Other interests include health, stability, belonging, and power. (Reference Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs below.)

When dialogue is grounded in interests, interests become a universal language that we all get to share, and reframing gets us to this language.

So, now you know the difference between a demand and an interest. You can call in a mediator when a conflict becomes unmanageable, or you can step back and discern the interest that the person across the table is communicating—even when the words coming from them sound like a demand. See if you can find the relatable thing between you and humanize with interests.

All the above relate to organization development professionals because they facilitate dialogue. In fact, mediation and organization development share goals of furthering advanced communication and participation. Reframing promotes understanding and cooperation to achieve these ends.

Reference: Maslow Hierarchy of Needs

About Vinh Do

Vinh Do helps individuals dialogue when they are in conflict. He also helps organizations make better informed decisions and gain participation from those impacted by change. Vinh started Brave Change Works, LLC, to harness the forces of conflict and change and because he believes working through conflicts and change begin with dialogue. He’s a professional mediator and a graduate of NTL Institute.