Developing one’s voice as a mediator can be tricky business. Our personality, empathy, and humor should shine through with our clients…accompanied by a soupcon of acting. Maintaining neutrality, suppressing your political/religious/personal views, and poker-facing the bizarre can require some serious Stanislavskian chops.
Here are some iconic actors we do not want to emulate, informed by watching lots of movies over the holidays while inhaling my Aunt Barbara’s cookies.
Al Pacino. In grad school, I took a class on Thucydides and the Peloponnesian Wars, and the professor showed lots of clips from the Godfather…as do I in our mediation trainings. Al Pacino is a national treasure, and lots of fun to imitate. But not as a mediator. Why? He shouts too much. (Hoo-rah! Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in! Say hello to my little friend! Attica! Attica! etc.). As our clients get increasingly agitated, it can be awfully tempting to raise our voices in return (thanks to mirror neurons). But it can be extremely effective for us to get proportionately calm, lowering our voice as they raise theirs.
Marlon Brando. An icon, a pioneer, and the poster manchild of method acting. But he’s just too mumbly and rambly for mediation. When asking questions, new mediators often ask long, roundabout, multi-part questions…like unto Brando’s cryptically meandering monologues in Apocalypse Now and Last Tango in Paris. Clear, concise, open-ended questions, sans hammy histrionics, is what it’s all about.
Robert DeNiro. NYC’s own Bobby D has the true gift of mimicry, and an unparalleled ability to immerse himself in his parts. In Raging Bull, he transformed himself from a sinewy coil of manmeat into a zaftig slab of tender veal. We strive to be empathetic, accessible, and relatable to our clients…but should stop short of mimicking their speech patterns or vernacular. It can come off as insincere pandering. (I’ve learned this the hard way through my ill-advised attempts to keep up with the kids by using their slang du jour).
Tom Hanks: With the exception of his portrait in smarm in the under-rated Coen Brothers film The Ladykillers, Tom Hanks is Mr. Nice guy in pretty much everything. And mediators should be nice. But we should also be vigilant about boundaries, and avoid being too chummy with our clients. Especially if they are Meg Ryan lookalikes using dial-up to access their AOL accounts in Seattle. Or mermaids.
Jack Nicholson: In a nutshell, it’s not a best practice to give our clients the heebie jeebies. Or wear sunglasses indoors. Eye contact is important.
See you at the movies. Save the middle seat for me.