Was ist Mediation?

My clients often ask me what exactly the term “mediation” means. This shows that the process of mediation – which originated in the USA in the 1970s and whose history goes back much further – is still not a fully established method of conflict resolution. And yet, it has since reached Germany and grown so popular and in demand that it was even regulated by German law in 2012. 

The benefits of this out-of-court conflict resolution method are convincing, and its limitations very manageable. Which is why it’s worth taking a closer look at the question above: What is mediation?

What makes the mediation process so special is that the conflicting parties are responsible for resolving their own conflict in a self-determined manner and with the help of a third party – a mediator. The process follows a specific structure, with so-called “stages.” The mediator, who remains neutral and impartial toward the conflicting parties, supports the necessary communication processes, creates a space of trust, guides them through the underlying structure and acts as a catalyst and bridge-builder on the relationship level.

For the mediator, the process is complex, as are the various ways it can be implemented – it   would go beyond the scope of this article to explain all the different options in detail. But it’s important to know that sometimes, the processes naturally require more interventions on the level of the subject matter of the conflict and sometimes more on the interpersonal level of the relationship. 

Particularly in the business context, it’s often only factual issues that are at stake, and these need to be resolved as smoothly, quickly and cost-effectively as possible, so that a win-win solution can be found for all parties involved. The more conventional alternative of going to court usually leads to the parties’ dissatisfaction, often takes far too long, and costs a great deal of money and time. In addition, taking an issue to court often permanently damages the relationship between the conflicting parties, rendering further collaboration impossible. This is where mediation can help.

Very often in the business context, within teams, between managers and employees, committees and management, etc., as well as in most other conflict situations – such as in the family, concerning inheritance, neighborhood, school, etc. – the conflict to be resolved is essentially at the level of relationships and needs. It is precisely in such contexts that mediation can unfold its great potential: As, with the support of the mediator, the parties examine their individual needs and seek a beneficial outcome for all, mediation enables conflicts to be resolved sustainably and to the satisfaction of both parties.

What does this mean specifically and in practice?

The mediation process is based on certain principles. For example, the selected mediator must be neutral when it comes to the subject matter of the conflict as well as to the parties themselves. At the same time, the mediator must be impartial to all parties, e.g., to balance any power imbalances. This is in contrast to a lawyer, for example, who is naturally biased in favor of the client who hired him or her. The mediator must be equally committed to both parties.

In addition, all participants, i.e., the disputing parties and the mediator, must participate in the process on a voluntary basis, but may leave the process at any time without giving a reason. In order to reach a good solution, confidentiality is paramount, as is openness and staying informed about all relevant aspects of the conflict.

Furthermore, the parties must act independently and of their own volition, i.e., they need to find the solutions that work for them and decide on them independently. If necessary, the mediator can provide support within the framework of the mediator’s impartiality. It’s always surprising to see how many people have difficulty determining what they really want, instead of just knowing what they don’t want, based on a process of elimination.

Finally, the process must be open-ended and forward-looking. Mediation is not about implementing a concrete solution or dealing with the past.

This may sound “simple” at first, but the devil is often in the details so it’s important to bring on an experienced mediator who can deal with the conflict system at hand. This always includes the individual needs of the parties.

The typical procedure is based on different stages, as mentioned above.

The mediation process begins with the so-called “opening” stage, during which the modalities are clarified, the procedure is explained in more detail and a first insight into the conflict in question is provided. The most relevant aspect of this stage is the “mediation covenant.” This means that the key thing is to create trust in the process and in the chosen mediator. Without this trust, mediation cannot work and is doomed to failure.

The opening stage leads to the “mediation agreement,” in which the classic contractual arrangements for working together are made.

This is followed by the “collection of relevant issues” as the first step of the actual mediation. The parties describe their respective issues to be resolved and formulate their respective positions. At this point, the parties are given the opportunity to express their views in an unfiltered way, and to be heard. This is a crucial point in finding a solution. Only when the parties are given the opportunity to “truly express what bothers or angers them” and are unconditionally accepted can the basis for discussion and clarification be established.

The issues collected in this way are then transferred to the “interest stage,” which aims at working out the needs, motives and emotions behind the positions and viewpoints expressed. This stage is considered the heart of mediation, as it represents the main difference between mediation and traditional litigation. In this stage, one of the mediator’s main tasks is to assist the parties in their self-reflection. Experience shows that often, the parties have not genuinely thought through their own position and tend to be unable to answer questions about their personal needs. In addition, the mediator leads the conversation from dialogic to triadic communication, ideally bringing about mutual understanding and the often-cited “a-ha” moments.

If the mediator is successful in this step, the process can move on to the “solution stage,” where the parties usually come together to brainstorm about potential solution, establish evaluation standards and agree on specific solutions, which are then recorded and set forth in the final agreement. This final agreement is a contract that can be enforced under civil law, something many parties believe provides additional security and a “double bottom line” to the process and its conclusion.

Usually, another sustainability meeting is held sometime later to check that the agreements reached have been implemented in practice.

At first glance, the requirements of the process seem fairly straightforward. But, as mentioned above, it is in fact very complex. The mediation process revolves around people and their needs in what is usually perceived as a stressful emergency situation. What mediators are dealing with is the most important thing of all: human beings and their souls. 

Therefore, special attention should be paid to the selection of a mediator, and value should be placed on the mediator’s sound training and ongoing qualification.

The method itself fits perfectly into the world of agile methods and new work concepts. It works with effects and impacts and thus takes the entire conflict system into account.

If this interests you, please get in touch anytime for a free information session to find out if this great approach is suitable for your specific situation.

Going through the mediation process is a journey – a journey to yourself and to a shared solution. It can be freeing and transformative. Mutual development and growth are at the heart of what happens alongside conflict resolution. My goal is to show you how to catch your own fish, not to serve you the fish you’ve already caught.

More than 20 years of experience – in higher education, too – have led me to the conviction that mediation belongs in today’s world more than ever.

I consider it a great privilege to help people find solutions to their stressful moments. My passion for this work carries me through each and every day and is also the reason why I do what I do.

If this blog post has inspired you to learn more, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Go for it,

Your Crisis Manager

Wie bist Du zur Selbständigkeit gekommen? Anke Stein-Remmert

I’m frequently asked what prompted me to leave my secure, well-paid job as a salaried lawyer in a bank and become self-employed instead. Many people seem to think it was a very courageous move.

They’re less surprised, however, when I tell them that for me it was not so much a courageous move as a logical one. But how did it come about?

Well, I’d have to go into a lot of detail to explain all my thoughts and desires behind this decision, but that’s not what this blog post is about – and I certainly don’t want to bore you. So what is it about? I want to tell you about the last straw that made me take this step in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis.

I was, of course, fully aware at the time that I was earning good money and had job security. But there were two sides to that coin: I simply didn’t feel happy in my job. It didn’t match my personal strengths, nor did my personality fit into the world of internal banking structures.

I spent a long time thinking about what a good alternative might be, but I couldn’t come up with anything. It seemed that I didn’t really have access to my own resources and, what’s more, to my own desires. I only knew what I no longer wanted. So I stayed where I was.

Until something happened (be forewarned – the story might get a little bizarre for your taste now ;-) )… Are you familiar with the following? You dream so intensely at night that you wake up in the morning not knowing whether what you experienced was real or a dream? Or the dream was so intense that you just can’t shake or wash off the feelings associated with it? That’s what happened to me.

In my dream, a giraffe was running through our living room at night, calling out to me, “Go for it, go for your goal!” The dream was so intense that when I woke up, I knew that the giraffe could never have run through our living room for real. Yet at the same time, it had completely captivated me with its words and triggered something in me.

I told my husband about this dream over breakfast and he asked me what I was going to do with it. My answer came spontaneously and enthusiastically: “I’m going to quit my job at the bank today!” No sooner said than done. I wrote my letter of resignation and handed it to my manager. She looked at me in horror, or surprise, and immediately said, “This isn’t what I’m afraid it is … is it?” I told her it was. She asked me how I had come to this decision and I told her about the giraffe, beaming with conviction. She shook her head and said, “You’re just plain crazy. Well, never hold up a traveler.”

And so, as of January 2, 2009, I found myself self-employed.

Now you might be wondering, did I know what I was going to do for a living right away? No, I didn’t. I was just really sure that it was the logical and right next step and that the rest would fall into place. Suddenly, for a brief moment, the coin had only one side.

It took me a couple of months. I figured out my USP, the subjects I was passionate about. I explored my strengths and skills. And it all led to: crisis and conflict management. Dealing with difficult situations and/or people. Voilà. This has been my focus ever since, and I continue to be passionate about it. Every day and every moment.

By the way, I later realized that the giraffe symbolizes conflict-free communication in “Nonviolent Communication” according to Marshall Rosenberg. I didn’t know that at the time. And giraffes had not played any role in my life up to that point. So the dream also held an answer for me in this regard.

Why am I telling you all of this? Our subconscious, or unconscious mind, processes more knowledge than our rational mind, and we just need to listen to these processes. This is something we can learn. And visualization – like dreams for me – opens the doors to them.

This is also the reason why I allowed myself to spend the generous bonus a client had given me for my good work on what I considered a luxury: having a painter paint my giraffe dream in my favorite color, green, on a 1.5 by 2-meter canvas. This work of art has been hanging across from my desk ever since. And whenever things get a little bumpy in my life or when important decisions need to be taken, I find myself “lost in thought” staring at the canvas, trying to come up with an answer or a solution.

And now you know why I always end my blog posts – including this one – with the following heartfelt words:

Go for it, 

Your Crisis Manager

Anke Stein Die Krisenmanagerin

As a child, whenever I felt annoyed by other people, my grandmother would respond with a wise and heartfelt saying: “The oak tree doesn’t mind if a wild sow scratches its back on it, does it?”

Do you know this saying? It comes from a novel by the German writer Walter Kempowski and has entered the German language as a proverb.

Ultimately, it means that we shouldn’t mind if other people try to annoy us or rub up against us.

Maybe this kind of thought has crossed your mind before, too. Either in a personal or professional context. Did it help you deal with the situation? Well, it certainly helped me.

After all, it expresses a sense of self-confidence and composure, and I’m sure that’s exactly what my grandmother wanted to convey: “Don’t get mad”; “Don’t let it get at you”, etc. 

If felt regularly and if it comes from conviction, this kind of saying – and many others – can form a mindset or firm belief in us. Both mindsets and beliefs are building blocks of our individual attitudes and thus grow into an integral part of our subconscious processes. This means that we instinctively act upon them when we feel triggered. In such situations, we typically operate on autopilot, and thus they are not directly or consciously controlled by us.

Why am I telling you this?

The dose makes the poison. In other words: There are two sides to every coin.

While the saying is meant to help us deal with certain situations more confidently and morel calmly, it can swing exactly in the opposite direction if used too often, with the “wrong goal” or even if the stimulus threshold is simply too low. After all, the phrase, “The oak tree doesn’t mind if a wild sow scratches its back on it” could also be interpreted as an expression of arrogance and ignorance.

Is that what you want?

With this, let me wish you inspiring thought processes.

Go for it,

Your crisis manager

Kommunikatives Arbeiten im Online-Setting: Teil 4

Hello to you and all the best for a happy and healthy 2022!

And of course, let me also welcome you to part four of our “Good communication in an online setting” blog series. This time, I’d once again like to address some of the special aspects of the various communication levels – tonal and non-verbal, gestures and facial expression.

I’ve also added a small exercise for you – I invite you to go ahead and give it a try. Let me know how it works out for you!

Nonverbal communication

Facial expression:

It’s helpful for the speaker to have a friendly facial expression. An open smile at the beginning establishes a connection with the audience. Even if it isn’t 100% heartfelt at the beginning, as soon as a friendly person smiles back – and this is guaranteed to happen! – you’ll have created a bridge between yourself and the audience and a connection will have been made. A smile, however, shouldn’t grow into a permanent grin.

Eye contact:

Eye contact simply cannot be overestimated – it engages the audience. By making good eye contact, you as a speaker will come across as confident and believable. Eye contact shows appreciation and helps the audience to feel seen as individuals. In addition, as a speaker, you’ll only be able to understand the nonverbal response of the other person if you have them in your sight. What’s more, by making eye contact, you’re virtually “commanding” the listener’s attention.

Yet, make sure you don’t stare too strongly at anyone, as this may unnerve the person you’re looking at. Similarly, avoid letting your eyes flit back and forth too much between people as this conveys insecurity rather than truly taking in the person you’re talking to.  


Gestures are part of our normal conversational behavior, which is why it would be downright unnatural to suppress them during video conferences!

Gestures should underline what is being said, not counter it. Between gestures, your hands should return to a resting position – otherwise, the use of hands and arms may quickly come across as “flailing about” and distract from, instead of emphasize, the content.


If possible, stand up during video conferences. Standing up gives you much more control over what is happening; simply by being upright, you’re giving your appearance more impact. Don’t shift your weight from one foot to the other, as this easily looks like “rocking” and tends to make the audience nervous or distract them from what’s being said.

Taking a small step towards the “audience” or video camera can underline what you’re saying. However, you shouldn’t constantly be striding forward and backward, as this also can come across as quite restless and distracting.

Tonal communication


Your most important tool when it comes to speaking is your voice! And like any tool, it needs to be well looked after and not used carelessly. The cornerstone of your voice is your breath, which naturally accompanies us every day and occurs automatically.

We can also intentionally use our breath to make our voice stronger – and to get any nervousness under control, because if you’re breathing calmly, you can’t be agitated.

Exercise “Conscious abdominal breathing”

A regular breathing pattern calms your body down. That’s why it’s important, in everyday life, to pay attention to breathing slowly and consciously into your abdomen. Get used to a counting rhythm. Slowly count to four as you inhale and then again slowly count to four as you exhale.

Lie or sit down comfortably. Place both palms on your abdominal wall. Your middle fingers may touch each other lightly. Now direct your attention inward, to your body. Close your eyes and take notice of your body from the inside out: your body, your back, your arms, your hands, your legs, your feet. Now direct your attention to your breath. Consciously observe the inflow and outflow of your breath. When you inhale, the abdominal wall rises; when you exhale, it lowers again. Your middle fingers come apart as you inhale and touch again as you exhale. Imagine a balloon. When you inhale, the balloon inflates, growing bigger and bigger; when you exhale, it collapses completely. Let your breath flow naturally. Just pay attention to how your belly rises when you inhale and falls when you exhale. Let any thoughts that distract you slowly pass by, like clouds in the sky. Again and again, turn your attention to your abdominal wall (for around two minutes). After the next exhalation, turn your attention outward again. Clench your hands into fists and stretch.

“Resting breath” exercise

“Resting breathing” is an excellent way to calm down in acute stress situations. You can use it before any challenge, before unpleasant confrontations or in the case of stage fright – and you can also use it if you’re experiencing an acute panic attack. Repeat the exercise until you feel a definite improvement.

No matter what, you will notice an improvement. Nervousness or agitation will decrease because no new energy is supplied when you’re hold your breath and therefore, you’ll have to rely on the surplus energy in your body. It’s important for you not to hold your breath after you inhale – otherwise, you may risk a headache.

Inhale and exhale deeply. After you exhale, hold your breath and start counting slowly from one to six or to ten.

Now breathe deeply in and out again. Repeat this breathing exercise for 2 to 3 minutes or until you feel definitely more relaxed and calmer.

Good actors “lubricate” their voice before every performance. Voice exercises can be very helpful for keeping your voice in a good, strong state, especially if you have a great deal of speaking to do. Exercises can help to make your voice richer, both when you’re preparing for a performance and during breaks when you’re carrying out online mediation (and by the way, it’s equally helpful for in-person events). This in turn clearly leads to a sense of calm and a slower pace, making listening easier and, at the same time, contributing to greater confidence.

Volume, speed and intonation

A change in volume, speed and intonation makes the content you deliver more lively. Speaking too softly not only makes the experience tiring for listeners, but also conveys an impression of insecurity and makes listeners impatient.

When excited, some of us speak faster than necessary or are afraid of not getting all the important points delivered in the time we have, thereby rushing through all we have to say. In such a case, less would be more!

Speed as such is not the problem if articulation is clear and you insert pauses – make sure to pay attention to those aspects!

Remember: You know what you’re talking about, but the listeners must understand it first, so meaningful pauses are necessary for a good understanding of what is being said and as a breather for the listeners.


Overall, online mediation works very well. It is comparable to face-to-face mediation. Yet, it’s important not to lose your head and, above all, not to focus on the limitations of online meetings, i.e., those things you believe would work better in person than online. This sentiment becomes immediately evident for participants and makes you looks awkward, unprofessional and not very trustworthy. It is always better to be oriented toward solutions instead of problems.

Of course, not every mediation is suitable for online work. This is the case, for example, when a mediation requires a high degree of confidentiality. The risk of the other side taking a screenshot of shared documents cannot be prevented and can only be ensured by contract.

Above all, enjoy the process, enjoy the technology if you can, approach the process with curiosity, and keep learning about communication (especially non-verbal communication).

Many of our mediators have greatly improved their technical skills because of the pandemic and by now are as familiar with this type of the mediation as with in-person mediation processes.

Good luck to you! And if you have any questions, feel free to contact us any time.

Go for it.

Your crisis manager

Part 2 of my “Mediation as an example of online crisis communication—can it work?” is intended to give you an overview of the various issues you’ll need to take into account when holding video conferences, and thus communicating, in online settings. Special attention will be given to the implementation of online mediations.

I’ll present the similarities and differences between an in-person and on-line mediation appointment along with other relevant aspects. I’ll also provide tips regarding the required technology and share some of my own experiences.

If you’re looking to gain more in-depth insight into various aspects, I encourage you to consult secondary literature, such as on the following topics:

  • communication (general)
  • non-verbal communication
  • questioning techniques
  • webinar tools (to improve focus and concentration)
  • voice
  • mediation (general)

Initial considerations

As a starting point for our considerations, a mediation must be planned and carried out according to the following basic structure:

  1. Making contact
  2. Preparation
  3. Initial meeting
  4. Collection of topics
  5. Identification of interests
  6. Solution
  7. Final agreement

For the purpose of this blog, we’ll assume that the content and objectives of each phase are known.

The phases

If you consider the various phases, it very quickly becomes clear that, in principal, they can all be carried out online. None of the phases requires an in-person meeting of the participants. Thus, the given order and structure for both the on-line and in-person process remains the same.

At its core, successful cooperation depends on the basic attitude of all participants (openness, willingness to participate and find a solution, etc.) as well as the professional expertise of the mediator, including their communication skills (active listening, questioning techniques, etc.), trust-building ability, intuition, empathy, structural knowledge, etc.  All of these aspects are, at first glance, independent of an in-person or online format and can thus be applied in either case.

It’s a fact, however, that the mediator must take into account a few important points when conducting the mediation online. Let’s look at those aspects in more detail now.


As early as when making the initial contact, the mediator should consider whether the conflict case is suitable for online mediation in the first place, and whether the conflict parties are technologically able, and mentally ready, for online mediation. Do they have the right attitude?

From a technology standpoint, the following video conferencing tools for conducting team meetings, discussions, workshops and mediations have established themselves in the market:

  1. GoToMeeting
  2. FastViewer
  3. TeamViewer
  4. Cisco Webex
  5. ZOOM
  6. Microsoft Teams
  7. Adobe Connect Meetings
  8. Skype
  9. Jitsi Meet
  10. 10. Etc.

Others certainly exist as well, but these are the providers most commonly used by our clients.

The user requirements will differ depending on the software provider that’s used. For example, some video-conferencing software is browser-based and requires neither installation nor a login from the participants, while other tools are part of a software package that requires a download and sometimes also some familiarization efforts.

When selecting or deciding on the most suitable option for your case, the following aspects may be relevant:

– Hardware: smartphone or desktop computer

– Internet access (via WLAN) or dial-up number obtained in advance

– Camera (smartphone camera or webcam)

– Possibility of playing back sound (loudspeaker or headphones)

Some important points to look for in the functional range for conducting an online mediation include:

  • High-definition or low-resolution video quality
  • Maximum number of potential participants
  • Screen sharing feature
  • Ability to collaborate on documents (e.g., whiteboard)
  • Data encryption
  • Price and contract commitment

I personally prefer ZOOM for mediation processes. The big advantage of ZOOM is that meetings can be easily synchronized with your calendar. The video conferences can be recorded locally or to the cloud (caution!) and screens of several participants can be shared at the same time, which makes collaboration in mediations even more flexible.

With this provider, participants can even easily join via their smartphone and comment in the ZOOM chat, brainstorm on a whiteboard and share files. 

In a nutshell, ZOOM has what mediators need: A good overview, multiple participant/camera settings at a glance, breakout rooms that can be set up spontaneously without prior preparation and that the mediator can visit and leave again as needed, as well as waiting rooms. What’s more, there’s a chat function and the possibility for each participant in the session to share documents on their screen. ZOOM is also largely self-explanatory.

Zoom can be tried out as a free demo and can be purchased for just under 14 euros per month. This makes the respective certificate inexpensive and affordable. Clients don’t have to download it themselves in order to participate, and they don’t incur any costs of their own.

Of course, for the course and success of the mediation, it’s crucial for the technical hardware of our mediators to offer the possibility of video and audio (it’s actually happened to me that someone wanted to participate in an online mediation without their computer having video and audio capabilities!). 

Of course, as mentioned above, a participant can also connect with a smartphone, in principle, but participation is severely restricted by the small screen. For example, the participant can only see one video of another participant at a time. Participating by phone is therefore not advisable, at least within the context of mediation.

When it comes to technology, a stable Wi-Fi connection must also be enabled. There’s nothing worse in a mediation session than when the internet connection repeatedly breaks down, thus making it impossible to have an uninterrupted conversation. For this reason, it’s sometimes even better to use a LAN connection.

In addition to these hardware and software requirements, the participants should also be open to using technology in the first place. It makes no sense to try this if one party is computer-shy or simply feels uncomfortable in front of a screen. Yet at the same time, one of the great advantages of online mediation is precisely that it creates physical distance between the conflict parties, allowing each participant to remain in their personal space of comfort instead of having to show up in a strange office or meeting room. This circumstance can increase the participants’ sense of well-being by providing them with a sense of personal safety – which can greatly facilitate the mediation process.

In any case, during the preparation phase, both the technical side and the personal attitude of the conflicting parties toward online mediation should be examined.

In principle, the ZOOM whiteboard can be used to collect topics, interests and solutions, but, from my perspective, it offers too few options. The points that are noted cannot be moved and changing font colors and sizes isn’t user-friendly. I therefore recommend the following tools:

  • Conceptboard
  • Miro
  • Mural

Conceptboard is worth highlighting in that it’s a German platform that’s EU GDPR-compliant. Thus, it increases trust in data protection and confidentiality on the one hand, while also meeting the needs and preferences of the German-speaking world on the other.

Of course, 

  • Word
  • PowerPoint

can also be used for collecting points via screen sharing. Yet only the mediator can write them down and change them. All documents can be easily uploaded later with Conceptboard, for example.

ZOOM also offers a function for mood queries. Alternatively, Mentimeter can be used free of charge.

With this, let me conclude my December blog. I look forward to your comments and questions as well as your experiences. Let’s learn from each other! After all, mediation lives from communication ;-)

I’ll post my next blog entry in January 2022 and look forward to you welcoming you here again then.

Go for it!

Your crisis manager Anke

Anke Stein - Onlinemediation

An intensive discussion has been going on for years as to whether online mediation works and, more importantly, whether it can be an appropriate means of resolving (often highly emotional) conflicts.

The pandemic has provided us with plenty of opportunities over the past year and a half to find out that online mediation does, in fact, work. Many mediators suddenly found themselves – after participating in theoretical debates about the pros and cons of online mediation – in a position where they had no choice but to simply try it out. And they were in for a surprise when they experienced that, as a process, online mediation does indeed work!

Even so, many mediators still find the online format disconcerting, and in some cases they’re reluctant to try it out. This reluctance, of course, can negatively impact their mediation business – which is why I’ll be using the next few blog articles to share tips and tricks for remote mediation processes and to answer questions about any reservations mediators may have about this.

These tips and tricks will cover such things as very practical technical tools and equipment as well as content-related issues, such as building trust and dealing with emotions. All of this will specifically relate to both the mediation process and other communication situations. In a word, there will be something for everyone.

If you have any questions or are looking for something specific, please just let me know so I can cover your topic, too.

Feel free to drop by again – I’m so glad you’re here!

Konflikte - Was steckt dahinter? | Anke Stein - Die Krisenmanagerin

Does any of the following sound familiar? You’re having a conflict with a colleague at work. You’re feeling ambivalent about something and are finding it hard to make up your mind. Things keep happening to you that you feel are slowing you down.

You may also be familiar with minor signs of exhaustion as those feelings of, “Oh no, not again” or “Just for once, can’t things go as planned?”

In today’s blog post, I’d like to share with you a highly effective language pattern that we’ve successfully used in countless mediations and crisis interventions.

When something goes wrong in our life, relationship, job or health, we’re typically quick to analyze the situation and ask ourselves: Why …? 

  • Why has this happened?
  • Why did this issue arise in first place?
  • Why me?

When we ask these questions, we’re looking for a reason, a cause. And, when looking at a timeline of the past, present and future, the answer is typically found in the past. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong, per se, with asking why, doing a little self-reflection and learning from this analysis.

Those who ask the “why” question are looking for connections and culprits, for mechanisms and causalities. And while this can be sensible and enormously useful, solutions tend to be found in the future, or at least in the present. Which is why it obviously doesn’t make much sense to pose the “why” question to the past – or does it?

Letting go, learning from our experiences and gaining knowledge can also be achieved by those who are looking ahead and thereby focusing on solutions.

Solution-focused people ask, “What for?” instead of “Why?”

These two questions may sound quite similar. You may even get the same answer to both of them. Yet, they carry a completely different weight – just like the terms “problem,” “defeat” and “failure.” They grow into a challenge.

The “what-for” question focuses on intentions, motivations, goals, needs and emotions, and explores the meaning of it all. These aspects take into consideration the future – or at least the present – and in so doing, they enable us to look ahead towards goal orientation, and above all, solution orientation. Which is exactly where we want to direct our attention!

In conversations, the “why” question tends to trigger feelings of justification in your conversation partner and these feelings, in turn, tend to lead to a blockade. And this is anything but useful in the joint search for collaborative solutions.

So now, imagine a conflict conversation in which you predominantly ask, “What for?” How do you think your conversation partner will feel? They’ll sense your interest in their real and true intentions and motivations and will feel – rightfully! – valued. What effect do you think this will have on the outcome of your conversation? 

To summarize:

It’s a fact that the “why” question rarely leads to truly satisfying answers and many of them won’t really get you anywhere, either – precisely because the question is looking towards the past.

On the other hand, “What for?” has the power to transform a conflict into an important stepping stone along a path towards a goal. And this can provide hope and encouragement.

Why? Just because.

If you need support, think of this passionate crisis manager – your stepping stone in times of crisis: Anke Stein.