How to Apply Non-Verbal Techniques in Mediation: Creating Rapport

The information and techniques in this article are from Barbara Madonik’s book, “I hear what you say, but what are you telling me?” (pg. 58-60) Wiley, Oct. 6, 2001.

As a mediator, creating good report with the parties involved in the mediation process is an important part of promoting a productive environment.  When parties feel comfortable with their mediator, they are more likely to consider realistic options and reach a satisfying agreement. Madonik outlines four useful techniques that mediators can use to help parties open up: Anchoring, Match-Pace-Guide, Metaphors/Analogies, and mirroring.


Any stimulus that is associated with a particular response is an anchor. In mediation, anchors can be particularly useful when they are set outside the parties’ awareness. Mediators can experiment with stimulus, such as particular tones, to see what responses they can bring out  in their parties.  This requires some experimentation, but can be very rewarding when a tone, or other stimulus, can shift the parties’ frame of mind.


The purpose of the Match-Pace-Guide Technique is to gain the confidence of the parties you are mediating and to prevent conscious resistance to new patterns by acknowledging parties on an unconscious level.

  • Match
    • identify a party’s preferred representational system and use it in response
  • Pace
    • replicate the party’s system, breathing, and eye cues and their physical and language patterns
  • Guide
    • lead the party into different ideas by introducing new patterns

Metaphors and Analogies

Metaphors and analogies are a useful way to communicate new information using concepts that are familiar, or a way for mediators to mitigate unpleasant situations between parties involved in mediation.  A metaphor is, “a figure of speech in which there is imaginative identification of one thing with another apparently different thing.”  and an analogy is, “a linguistic device used to suggest similarities and correspondences between things that may not be immediately obvious to most people.” Both are useful tools to be able to use as a mediator.


As a mediator, it is important to notice the communication signals that parties use. Mirroring is the process of recognizing these signals and using them yourself in order to create rapport with parties during the mediation process.

Chasing Away Pink Elephants

Have you ever told someone not to do something and gotten the exact opposite response? The human mind processes “Do Not” statements in a specific way. Madonik uses the command,”Do not think of a pink elephant,” to illustrate this phenomenon.  Are you thinking of a pink elephant?

Mediators who are aware of this quirk in human cognition are able to avoid huge communication pitfalls.   Minimizing the use of negatives and telling the parties involved in mediation what you want instead of what you do not want yields more positive results.

Playing Back

Playback is a useful technique which mediators use in order to clarify issues and to compel parties to be attentive listeners. The most classic application is to ask Party A to make an opening statement and to ask Party B to “play back” what they heard.  Then, the mediator invites Party A to asses the accuracy of Party B’s statement.  This process continues until Party A is satisfied that Party B really understands what they meant in their initial statement.  The Parties then switch roles and the process is repeated by the mediator.


Mediators can change a person’s perception of a situation by reframing it.  Reframing is to, “take a party’s original idea about an experience and modify the setting or context around it.” A new representation of an experience can create a change in feelings about an event.  Parties can then move towards positive action.

In the comments section below, tell us how you have used any of these techniques successfully in the past, or how you plan to implement them in the future.