Gregg F. Relyea is a private full-time mediator, arbitrator, and neutral factfinder in San Diego. He also teaches mediation and arbitration advocacy at San Diego’s California Western School of Law and the University of California at San Diego.
While the spoken word may be a component of communicated thoughts and feelings, the impact of word choice by a mediator cannot be overstated. Neutrality, rapport, and momentum toward agreement, among other things, all are directly affected by the words a mediator uses.
Word choice in daily social conversation may be largely spontaneous, but a mediator must make constant and conscious decisions about word choice that will promote the process goals of mediation, such as self-determination, identification of barriers to resolution, open examination of alternatives, creation of settlement options, and mutual gain. In addition, the interpersonal dynamics of each dispute, as well as the substantive issues, call for continuing judgments about word choice by the mediator.
This article focuses on the constructive impact of effective word choice by a mediator and identifies some common speech patterns that can be destructive to the mediation process. It acknowledges the role, and the combined effects of context, subtext, and nonverbal communication.