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November 29, 2007

The Importance of Follow Up

One of the reasons that coaching has become so successful is that we contract out accountability for our goals to another person. That person-the coach-checks in with us on a regular basis to see how things are going without taking responsibility for the accomplishment of the goals themselves.

When we follow up after a mediation that has produced an agreement, we are essentially doing the same thing. We are not taking responsibility for the implementation of the agreement, but we are creating a forum for participants to report back on how things are going and to explain both the successes and challenges since the agreement was reached.

There was a time when I considered a follow up a courtesy, something non essential but ‘good’ to do. More and more, I am of the view that follow up is a vital part of any mediation, especially in workplace mediations where the disputants have worked out new behavioral arrangements.

Reasons to Follow Up

First and foremost it signals care. The participants know that you share in their desire to succeed. In addition, it signals your realism. We all know how hard it is to change habits. Over time, people develop dysfunctional ways of relating to one another. Agreeing to change behavior is one thing. Actually changing it is another. It also signals an opportunity. Fine tuning an agreement or making adjustments based on lived experience is not a sign of failure but of maturity. By following up you are creating an opportunity for the participants to trouble shoot and consolidate lessons.

The entire focus of the follow up meeting is learning. Following up is not about blame, but continuous improvement.

How to Follow Up

My preference is to follow up about 45 days after a mediation has produced a behaviorally specific agreement. Sometimes I check in with each of the participants by way of a phone call. At others, I actually convene a meeting where we all share how things are going.

I establish rapport by listening reflectively to whatever is said when I call or we start our meeting. As much as possible I validate emotions and explore whether it is possible to reframe any frustration as care, disappointment as commitment, and anxiety as courage.

Once I sense that the participant/s are comfortable and ready to open up, I orient them to what we are about to do. I remind them that the process is still confidential and may use open ended questions such as:

  • What aspects of the agreement you reached have been working well?
  • What have you done differently since reaching the agreement?
  • What has the other person done differently since reaching the agreement?
  • What aspects of the agreement are causing frustration/disappointment/anxiety?

I may also used close ended questions, as needed, such as:

  • Have you been following the terms of your new agreement?
  • Have you been meeting regularly as proposed?
  • When last did you look at the agreement?

When we follow up in a shared meeting I get participants to share specific situation that have been challenging. Based on what they share, we may do some additional skill building and then I have them do what I call a ‘Take Two.’ They get to replay the situation and with some supportive coaching and encouragement, see that it could have worked out differently.

Conclusion

To make sure that follow up gets the respect that it deserves, I now include it in my proposal when asked to mediate. I explain that it is an important part of the process and just the way that I work. In many ways, mediators are like coaches, asking the accountability questions, while leaving decision making and implementation responsibility where it belongs-with the participants themselves.

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