Negotiating on Venus and Mars

I sit and ponder “What do I bring to the table that is different from other mediators?” The most common answer? I have local government expertise. The second most common answer? I am a woman. This is intriguing to me as I have always prided myself in my ability to fare relatively well in a male-dominated field and to fit in with the “good ole boys (in hindsight, maybe they just let me feel like I fit in.). Nevertheless, I am often chosen to mediate because I am a woman. But why? Is it that a female mediator brings something different to the table than a male mediator?

I turn to the internet, as always, to find the answer to this nagging question. Surprisingly, I find little on the subject of women in the field of mediation and how they are perceived and how their styles may vary from that of male mediators. Author John Gray, P.h.D, writes of the vastly different communication styles of men and women in his timeless book Men Are From Mars Women are From Venus.

Reading Gray’s book is a watershed moment for many struggling to improve their communication skills at work, at home and in relationships of any sort. He says that women, “Venetians,” like to air out their problems, to vent let’s say, without solutions being thrown at them. He says men, “Martians,” are natural problem-solvers and may listen but in listening are focused on resolution and outcome.

Maybe that is the answer. Female mediators perhaps are perceived as actively listening to the parties and helping the parties hear each other so that they can work to their own resolution. Male mediators are perhaps perceived as being more outcome oriented and actively involved in the problem-solving.

As is evidenced by the nationwide success of female and male mediators alike, there obviously is room in the field of mediation for “Venetians” and “Martians.” Perhaps some situations cru out for a “Venetian” while for others only a “Martian” will do.

- Sandra C. Upchurch

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