In his book “Who Gets What” Kenneth Feinberg — the mediator who oversaw the distribution of claims arising out of the 9/11, Virginia State University and BP oil spill tragedies — acknowledged the importance of allowing claimants to talk candidly about their losses. Indeed, he notes that often a claimants’ desire to speak about the victim — especially a loved one — was more important than how much the claimant would receive.
Feinberg found himself listening for hours to the family members of persons killed or injured in the 9/11 attack, the Virginia State University tragedy, and the BP oil spill other tragedies.
Mediators are expected to listen to parties’ vent their concerns, fears, and expectations. Venting can be a normal, cathartic, and usually positive step in the process of arriving at an agreement. Some parties need to blow off steam before they’ll engage in the serious work of reaching an agreement.
The challenge is to listen non-judgmentally, respectfully, and “care-ingly.”
But what if venting gets personal? You may want to rebut, rebuke, or resist the other person’s comments, be she a family member, neighbor, business associate, or friend. This is especially painful if a grievance has festered for months, even years.
Here are some ways to mitigate the hurt you may experience if you’re the target of a vent:
1. Remember, listening is not agreeing.
2. It can be the first step in healing an emotional crisis.
3. Try holding your fire until the other person finishes.
4. Keep track of what was said so you can respond — but without getting emotional yourself.
5. If the vent goes on interminably, ask at some point: “What do you need?” This can force the other person to state his or her concerns in a more orderly way.
6. Bear in mind that whether the dispute concerns you or not, allowing the other party to be heard does wonders for healing an someone on the other side of an issue. The person on the receiving end of a Vent — whether a mediator, adversary or family member– needs to hold fire until the other party decides enough is enough.