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Is Mediation Like Leading an Orchestra?

Is Mediation Like Leading an Orchestra?


“Did you know that the conductor of an orchestra is always one and a half beats ahead of the musicians?” asks Amanda Bucklow from IPOS Mediation. She comes up with an interesting comparison: A mediator is like a conductor, always a few steps ahead, leading in the right direction. Does this resonate with you?

Did you know that the conductor of an orchestra is always one and a half beats ahead of the musicians? The role of the conductor is not to keep the orchestra in time but to stay a fraction in front of them, leading them, giving them the information they need in order to play. As a mediator, that’s exactly what I do. I lead the process by staying a couple of beats ahead.

 Like the conductor of an orchestra, I get advance notice when there’s a change in mood, tone or emotion. For example, I may spot a gesture that could indicate someone is moving into an angry state, and as the leader I can head that off.  Over a long career as a mediator, I’ve also become extremely attuned to voice and language. I can tell how people are changing in their approach from the way they speak and from how they structure their sentences. I watch and listen and lead accordingly.

 Of course, these things are not codified. It isn’t a case of ‘They are doing “x” so they are feeling “y”. That’s why I always try to speak to parties before the mediation. I want to have a relaxed, non-confrontational conversation so I can understand their baseline communication style. What vocabulary and sentence structure do they use? What’s their normal tone and pace? It gives me the opportunity to understand when there are deviations from that baseline. For example, looking at what happens when they get a bit upset. Do they chew their lip or raise a dominant shoulder?  We all give signals ahead of our emotion state and these precursors allow me to anticipate how a party might be feeling.

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