The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. VI, 10/06

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Persuasive Words for Effective Intakes

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
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Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
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Welcome to the October issue of The School Mediator.

This month we continue our exploration of the intake interview. As with last month's issue, Maija Gray inspired and co-wrote this piece.

Please send along your thoughts and experiences.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Persuasive Words for Effective Intakes

  • This is the second issue of The School Mediator about intake interviews. Click here to read last month's issue.

    How do you convince a reluctant student to try mediation?

    There is no easy formula; instead, as discussed last month, first you must develop a strong rapport with students. Only then do skillful coordinators educate about/advocate for mediation in response to each student's unique concerns.

    If this sounds calculated--as in "planned and deliberate"--it is. You are listening strategically, attuning yourself to the student's interests, and creating opportunities to highlight the benefits of mediation.

    Being calculated, however, can only get you so far. You need to be motivated by a sincere concern for students in order to be effective.

    The following are some of the most persuasive phrases in the intake interview "tool box:"

    "I care about your well being."
    The foundation of it all: Students need to know that you understand them, that you are on their side, and that you have their best interests at heart.

    "I'll be there for you."
    If your program is one in which coordinators remain in the room during the session, let students know that you will be a witness and support for them. Even if you do not customarily remain in the room, consider doing so for a very reluctant student.

    "The other party is willing to try mediation."
    This strategy is very powerful. It makes the student feel in control ("the other party needs me more than I need them") and it also implies that on some level, the other party cares about them. (Before you have a commitment from either party, you can ask whether the party at hand would be willing to mediate if the other party agrees. Also: Try to meet first with the party who will be most likely to agree to mediate.)

    "Mediation can help you achieve your goals."
    After discovering a student's interests relative to the other party (e.g., to not be bothered, to get a possession back, to find out the truth, to speak their mind, to restore a relationship, etc.), explain how mediation might be an effective way to achieve such goals. Share examples of how this has worked for other students.

    "Talking it out is the mature thing to do (...and I can see that you are mature)."
    This strategy appeals to students' desire to be grown- up and do the right thing. You might point out that humans have been given the ability to reason and to use our large brains, not just our fists. Or highlight the courage--courage that the student clearly has--required to try something like mediation.

    "You can always back out."
    Let students know that they don't have to agree to anything during mediation, and that they can end the process at any time if they feel it is not working for them.

    "You have nothing to lose."
    Some students respond well to a reminder that it doesn't hurt or cost anything to try mediation. In some circumstances, you might even say to a student: "What do you have to lose? If you try mediation, and it doesn't work, you can always still fight."

    "Fighting (and avoiding) usually won't get you what you want."
    Fight or flight is no picnic. The former has many negatives (personal injury, disciplinary consequences, and parental involvement, to name but a few), and avoiding a conflict can create its own set of problems. While mediation can seem difficult and scary initially, it is often the easiest route to achieving one's goals. Maija often says: "Fighting seems easy at first, but is difficult later; mediation seems difficult at first, but feels easy later."

    "It is ultimately your choice."
    Remind students that mediation is indeed voluntary, and should they decide not to do it, you will still sincerely respect and care about them. This is where you, the coordinator, must show some courage. Many a student has decided to try mediation directly after this demonstration of a coordinator's faith in them.

    It's true: In the end, it is the student's decision whether to try mediation or not, and coordinators need to live with whatever he or she decides.

    As you refine your intake interview chops, however, you'll find that increasing numbers of students will choose to try mediation. The vast majority will be very glad that they did.

    We want to learn from you! Please share specific examples of what you say and do during intake interviews...

  • About Us
  • For twenty-two years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

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