[This article originally posted April 30, 2012]
I was recently asked to pass a message from one party to another. Party A didn’t want to confront Party B. Reluctantly, I agreed to be the go-between.
And as usual, I turned out to be as much the enemy in the eyes of the recipient as the person who asked me to relay her message. Talk about a tough conversation. It was impossible. So, I decided to check in with an expert on messaging: the daughter of a divorced couple.
Even though most divorce agreements state that the parties will not ask their child to pass messages between them, it is honored more in the breach than in practice. This young woman generously shared her five practical rules for message transmission. With her permission, I am sharing them below.
- Prepare to be shot. No matter how hard you try not to be in the line of fire you will likely be a target.
- Try to impress on the recipient that you are in no way responsible for coming up with the message. Try even though you’ll probably fail.
- Empathize with the recipient. Let them know that you understand how they feel; how difficult it must be to hear what you have to say.
- Get ready to listen to the recipient’s vent. Sadly, your messaging job isn’t complete until you have duly heard the recipient blast away at whomever you represent, as well as yourself.
- Finally, proclaim your neutrality. It is critical that you tell the recipient that you don’t have a dog in this fight.
The best advice that I can proffer, however, is this: unless you’re a trained mediator, refuse to be the messenger. Just say no.
Beyond Dispute Associates
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Jean-Paul Gagnon says
Interesting comment. I have recently completed training in mediation ( integrative and transformative). I am also a certified Conflict Management Coach.
From my perspective and the education I have, even a trained mediator should not intervene in whatever way in order to preserve the impartiality and neutrality.
We are not messengers.
As an ex HR Executive, I also had to be very careful not to be perceived as ‘taking sides’.
So, I would personally refrain from acting as go between.
Suzanne Ghais says
Great post, Sig. I’m inclined to agree with Jean-Paul Gagnon but only if there is an ongoing relationship (even a frosty one or only a strictly businesslike one). I was once a party to a mediation over a car accident. It was just a matter of figuring out compensation. It was almost all done through “shuttling” by the mediator, with parties in separate rooms, and it was fine. However, in my practice I generally avoid relaying messages (except, occasionally, a conciliatory one), because usually I deal with parties who will have something to do with each other on an ongoing basis.