Upcoming Panel Discussion: Talk It Out -Resolving Conflicts in the Family, in the Community, and in the Workplace

Conflict is a part of life and it affects all of us. It can include disputes between family members, neighbors, a co-worker or a boss, or the school principal.   It can also include disputes between a landlord and a tenant, a customer and a business, a boss and an employee, principals and teachers versus parents and students, parties to a formal contract, and even issues like responsibility for a pet’s actions.

Come hear about various mediation options from a panel of experienced conflict resolution experts to resolve these disputes. Join us from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 3, at the Burke Branch Library, 4701 Seminary Rd., Alexandria (right off #395 exit at Seminary East).  The program is co-sponsored by the Alexandria Library and the Northern Virginia Media Service (NVMS), Fairfax, VA.

There is no charge for the program and light refreshments will be served.

Learn how mediation can work for you. And if you can’t resolve these conflicts, the panelists will help you to understand the process for taking your dispute to the Small Claims Courts—in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax.  What you don’t know can hurt you, regarding finances, property, employment, relationships and your credit report.

Free parking is available on site.  For any questions on the program, contact Izabela Solosi, NVMS Training Program Manager, at training@nvms.us or at 703-865-7261.

How to Apply Nonverbal Techniques During Mediation: Gathering Information

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. 62-63) Wiley, Oct. 6, 2001.

Gathering useful information is one of the most challenging tasks set to mediators.  The following tools can be used by mediators to access information that is needed for a successful resolution, but may not be presented clearly by participants initially.

Recognize Bracket Negotiating

Sometimes, participants in mediation will have a specific financial settlement amount in mind.  Bracketing is a negotiation technique that some clients will use to try to get that figure.  When people are bracketing, they state a much higher sum than their desired amount, believing that the other person will automatically offer too low of a sum and by negotiating, they will be met in the middle.  Mediators should be aware of this common negotiating tactic and intervene appropriately.

Employing the Columbo Technique

Barbara Madonik coined this term after a TV detective (named Columbo) who used an awkward mannerisms and appearances as a clever tool.  Sometimes, it is advantageous to the mediator to appear pedestrian and start with a soft approach, rather than dressing to impress and asking pointed questions.  By employing the Columbo technique effectively, mediators can reduce the parties feelings of threat and confrontation.  Comfortable participants are important to a successful mediation.


A common saying in conflict studies is, “an argument is not always what it appears to be about,” meaning that sometimes the real issue is hidden below the superficial words people use to express themselves initially.  Onionskinning is the use of persistent and sequential questions that are aimed at getting to the center of the problem little by little.  By employing this technique, mediators can uncover hidden issues that may have held participants back from a successful resolution if they were never revealed.

Recognizing a Wedding Dress

Once, Barbara Madonik was involved in a mediation that was almost derailed by a participant’s hidden agenda.  When discussing monetary compensation, the client offered a figure that was unsubstantiated by the conflict at hand.  Eventually, Madonik discovered that the participant was hoping to get the cost of a wedding dress covered by the mediation, even though the conflict at hand had nothing to do with the wedding.  Recognizing when participants have goals that may influence the mediation process negatively is an important skill for a mediator to have.

Minimizing Door Knob Issues

Have you ever been involved in a mediation that seems to be resolved, and then one of the parties brings up an issue as everyone is ready to walk out of the room?  That is a door knob issue.  Participants withhold information for many reasons.  Mediators should look for nonverbal cues that do not match what participants are saying.  For example, if a participant has their arms crossed and is frowning while saying, “Yes”, the mediator should consider this a clue that there may be more information to be gathered before a lasting agreement can be reached by all parties.

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. 


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. 



Fairfax County Alternative Accountability Program (AAP)

Repairing Harm from Youth Offenses in the Community

The Fairfax County Alternative Accountability Program becomes part of Fairfax County Police Department policies county-wide on June 1, 2017.  While this is an exciting development, applying restorative justice practices to solve problems in Fairfax County is not new. The Alternative Accountability Program (AAP) launched in 2014 to address crimes committed by youth with accountability while reducing risk factors tied to court involvement and giving a voice to victims.  AAP is based on restorative justice (RJ) principles.  RJ began in Fairfax County in the Schools in 2004 and helps youth and community members have harmed to address select criminal offenses effectively without creating a criminal record for the youth involved.  The AAP is a unique, collaborative effort to pro-actively address priority areas of concern surrounding juvenile crime and discipline.


The AAP program focuses on critical issues in the community such as: re-offence and recidivism of harmful criminal and discipline acts, minority over-representation of youth in criminal justice & disciplinary proceedings, community stakeholder harm from youth crimes; and victim impact.

Restorative Justice conferencing is a proven approach in regards to addressing these serious issues and increasing positive outcomes.  The goals for this particular program are: to reduce the number of youth who are court-involved and have criminal records; to hold youth accountable for their actions without exposing them to risk factors associated with having a criminal record; to create appropriate, incident-specific responses for each case; to reduce recurrence of criminal acts by youth; and to provide support for victims to participate in identifying how their harm is addressed.

Here are the agencies and organizations that are collaborating on this program:

The partner agencies collaborate in order to identify eligible youth, provide services and share information. AAP services are provided in a variety of locations within Fairfax County, including schools, community centers and Police stations. The Program is supported by the Fairfax County Consolidated Community Funding Pool.

Below is an outline of the process that will be followed by the responsible organizations:

Police Officers refer youth arrested for appropriate crimes;

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Juvenile Courts check the eligibility of youth for RJ program;

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NVMS, FCPS and JDRDC provide services in the form of restorative conferences involving the referred youth, their parent(s) and affected community members;

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NVMS and FCPS track compliance with agreements;

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NVMS maintains program data and shares it with partner agencies for program evaluation (within confidentiality procedures); and

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Representatives from all partner agencies meet frequently to review progress and continue work to advance and expand access to the program.

For More Information, visit: https://nvms.us/fairfax-rj/


Family Mediation Skills