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September 6, 2022

Communications Guidelines

By David A. Hoffman

In a recent family-business mediation, I was asked by the family members to help them develop a communications protocol for their ongoing discussions and meetings.  I dusted off some of the checklists that I have used in trainings, workshops, and other mediations, and created a list for them that I want to share here, with the following request:

Please write to us at BLC if you see ways to improve the following list.  Some of the items here are self-explanatory, and some not so much.  We invite your questions and comments (my email address is  And please feel free to use this list if it’s helpful!!

  1. Respect / kindness / compassion
  2. Recognition / validation / appreciation
  3. Responsible risk-taking (consider likely impact, not just your intent)
  4. Explicit understandings about transparency and confidentiality
  5. Use “I” statements (not “you” statements) – and use the other person’s name (not “he,” “she” or “they”)
  6. Assume good intent; check other assumptions at the door
  7. Avoid psychoanalyzing
  8. Avoid judging/blaming – be hard on the problem, not the people
  9. Avoid “always” and “never” in describing other people’s actions
  10. Avoid “but”
  11. Listen for understanding (and ask questions, as needed)
  12. Genuine curiosity (questions should not be used for cross-examination)
  13. Pay attention to both the words (i.e., substance) and the music (i.e., emotions)
  14. Note body language – your own and others’ (what is it communicating?)
  15. Use looping to demonstrate understanding
  16. Focus on interests/needs rather than positions
  17. Use reframing to direct focus toward interests/needs (vs. positions) and the future (vs. past)
  18. Step up to the balcony
  19. Look for principled benchmarks regarding issues in dispute
  20. Look for opportunities to expand the pie (shared interests or complementary interests)
  21. Brainstorming – generating ideas without judgment or attachment
  22. Meetings
    1. Show up on time
    2. Agree on who will facilitate, track time, take notes, etc.
    3. Set agenda (preferably timed)
    4. Respect time boundaries
    5. Agree on meeting ground rules
    6. Share the airtime / avoid interrupting
    7. Elicit views of all participants (including the more reticent participants) – try doing a go-around
    8. If appropriate, give all participants a minute or two to write down what they want say, before doing a go-around
    9. No zingers
    10. Humor is OK – but not at other person’s expense
    11. Avoid multi-tasking and other distractions
    12. Take breaks as needed
    13. Appropriate notetaking and records / documentation of decisions and action items
    14. Schedule next meeting, as needed, and agree on agenda and selection of facilitator
    15. Complete any homework in a timely manner
  23. Zoom meetings – additional guidelines
    1. No recording or streaming without advance permission
    2. Participants agree to keep non-participants from hearing or seeing the discussion
    3. Test connectivity, microphone, and speaker before the meeting
    4. If there’s background noise, mute your microphone until you are speaking
    5. Keep video turned on unless there’s an agreement otherwise
    6. Position webcam so that you can be seen clearly (including sufficient lighting)
    7. Avoid distracting backgrounds
    8. Avoid using the “chat” feature in a manner that distracts from the discussion
    9. Rename yourself if the name on the Zoom screen is not yours
  24. It’s OK to ask for time-out / negotiate about process and ground rules
  25. When tensions are high, consider asking “what’s your proposal?”
  26. Specify, in advance (if possible), dispute resolution mechanism to be used in the event of unresolved conflict


Family Law, Law, Mediation

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