Balancing candor and kindness: My thoughts on giving feedback

Four weeks have passed since I completed my cross border family mediation training at MiKK e.V. and I feel it’s time to share a few thoughts.

When a group of people from 11 countries with different background and different level of experience meet to co-mediate, chances are that it will be challenging to find common grounds. It is from this very challenge that I got the most important learnings.

First: Interdisciplinarity is extremly enriching and it is worth taking some time to become well attuned to one another.

Mediators usually come in very different flavours: Some are lawyers, some have had a career in more than one arena before discovering mediation as the unifying profession for their unique set of skills.

The intensity of such influences (or conditioning?!) entails the danger of bias but also the gift of variety and impacts the relationship with your co-mediatior: While you can be irritated by your co-mediatior not opening up enough space for addressing feelings, one moment later you can be delighted by their ability to get the conversation back on track.

How can you become attuned to a co-mediator you haven’t worked with before? I found that a well-thought-out feedback is a powerful way of getting to know each other and I wish I had taken more time to cultivate it.

I have noticed a shift in the way we have given each other feedback. After the very first sessions it was more confrontational: „No, we in country X just don’t do that in mediation!“. After a week together I felt it was more driven by sincere curiosity. Something like: „Look, I’ve been trained to do this in order to achieve that, what is your experience?“.

We have learnt to find common grounds, yet I felt that feedback was limited to assessing which degree of difference in style we would tolerate.

I think that, in order to enable personal growth, feedback needs to address specifically the work we have just done together in the session rather than evaluating one’s style in general. Being very honest, specific and clear (without nagging) while at the same time being helpful and showing that you care requires candor and kindness. In Germany we call it „Fingerspitzgefühl“.

Next time I will contribute more to creating an environment that encourages feedback in a candid, yet kind way.

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