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Power of Listening and Being Heard


A family was caught in a dilemma. The parents were in agreement that their teenage son should attend a faith-based school with great teachers, an excellent reputation, and a record of instilling solid moral values in its students. Their son, on the other hand, passionately wanted to attend the same school his friends would be attending. This would mean that he would have to get up much earlier than if he chose the school his parents preferred. However, he would be with his friends, and this meant the world to him.

This was no small matter – the young fellow was so distraught he cried every night, getting very little sleep and had lost all interest in anything but his future school. He wouldn’t talk to his family, refused to attend any social functions and was just miserable and angry all the time. His parents were very concerned, felt they were “losing” him, and ultimately sought help. It was agreed, with their son, that they would attend a mediation session.

The “normal”, traditional arrangements were made, i.e., agreeing with the mediator on the approach (in writing), “rules” of behaviour for all parties (e.g., respectful listening), what form any agreement would take (e.g., no agreement would be concluded until all elements were agreed to), etc. Regardless, the early stages of the discussion were difficult, very tenuous, with both parents and son very emotional and, at times, a lot of walking on eggshells.

Opportunities were provided for both parents and their son to express their views from their unique perspectives, making sure that:

•         Both the son and the parents were listened to and understood (by one another),

•         Equal opportunities were provided to express feelings/emotions as well as concerns,

•         Both parents understood and accepted that their son, too, was concerned about growing up with solid moral values and a good education.

Gradually, the elements of a potential solution began to emerge.  Ultimately it was agreed that the son would go to the school he had chosen so that he could be with his friends, even though this meant getting up every day significantly earlier to catch the school bus. It was difficult for the parents, but they acknowledged, they agreed, that this was best for their son. Contingency plans were also developed, i.e., the son made commitments whereby, if he did not keep them, he agreed to transfer to the parent’s choice of school. Everything was documented in writing and a third party identified to arbitrate any resulting issues or disagreements related to implementation.

Several days after the mediation session, the mediator received a call from one of the parents. The parent said “You won’t believe what has happened. Our son has changed his mind - he wants to go the school we suggested he go to before the mediation session.”

According to the son, the key reasons for his change of heart were a) he could get up later every day, if he went to his parent’s choice of school, and b) they had listened to him…really listened to him, and he felt heard.

As a result, he could relax and think the situation through logically…and he decided that what they proposed was the best option for him.


By: Gord Breedyk, (

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