Olga Tsiptse, LLM, is a certified mediator at the International Mediation Institute. She is a lawyer at the Greek Supreme Court and a GDPR/DPO expert. Next week she will teach a masterclass on how to think and act like a top-tier mediator at the SCLA-GIDI International Mediator Leadership Training Programme in Chengdu. We were lucky to chat to her to get an advance preview of the wisdom she will be sharing.
It’s an honour and my pleasure to speak to you, Ms Tsiptse. Can you introduce yourself and your mediation journey?
Olga Tsiptse: It’s my honour to be here. I’m delighted for the opportunity to join so many esteemed colleagues to teach this course with SCLA and GIDI. I’m an LLM lawyer at the Supreme Court of Greece and I’m an accredited mediator and arbitrator at the Ministry of Justice. I have also dealt with GDPR data-protection regulation – which is my field of expertise.
My mediation journey is a journey of life. Mediation is the purpose of life. We have lost touch with other people and lost our ability to be human in a basic way; we communicate but don’t hear others. So, mediation is a reminder for us to start thinking about others and listening to others. This happened to me the first time I dealt with mediation in 2015. As I learnt about mediation I came upon a miracle – something happened within me and it was the most wonderful thing because I started thinking about other people and their mindsets, moods, interests, and needs. For me, mediation is life. And I think life is very, very good when we have other people in our lives to exchange feelings, thoughts, and experiences with.
You mentioned that seeing things from another person’s perspectives is central to mediation. Would you call this empathy, and how do you equip yourself with such abilities?
OT: First of all, consider the definition of empathy. I don’t like definitions, because when we live, we don’t think about definitions; we just live, we just feel, we just think. But I think empathy must be distinguished from other notions, such as sympathy or comparison. Empathy is the ability to identify someone’s thinking or feelings to respond to them with an appropriate emotion. We have to imagine what another person feels and things; their mindset and mental state and their past. It’s a very complicated thing. But it is very bound to our lives although we have forgotten it while we live in years of speed and technology. We don’t think about how a person is feeling or thinking. Empathy is a reminder that we are human beings and not machines.
I can tell that you are someone who wants to understand other people’s perspectives. How do you exercise empathy in dispute resolution methods or international settings?
OT: First of all we need to distinguish between dispute resolutions outside of court and litigation. Unfortunately, in litigation we cannot show emotions at all. But in mediation or other institutions (besides arbitration) are ideal for empathy.
If you don’t know how to feel empathy for someone or something there are tips and techniques that let you practise this skill, which any one of us can learn and strengthen. First of all we need to start listening to each other, not thinking about our own response to what they’re saying. I want to hear the speaker, not just think of what I will say next but see the expressions that come from the face or the body. We have to pay attention to all these movements – body language, facial expressions; they’re all very important to communication. Listen without interrupting them and without thinking about other things.
We need to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the people we’re speaking to. When someone is very angry, what is the reason for their anger? No one is angry by birth; no one is angry because of their personality. I think people can be angry because of many things that have happened in his or her life.
Then, of course, there are many other tips that I’ll be sharing at my session with the participants at the training programme!
You alluded to being aware of different cultural differences. What are the approaches that help increase empathy in meetings across cultural divides?
OT: Of course, cultural differences exist, but there are some basic issues that are common to all of humanity. So, we start from what we have in common and build training sessions that concern our personal education. It has to be focused on the study of a person’s background. People who live in China, for instance, are very kind and have a religious background and some very strong principles in their lives. They are educated people, and hard-working. So, we have to focus on those things to understand all these people and how we can communicate. There are differences between people who live in China and in other places, like Brazil or India or Europe, but there are also many differences between people from Europe.
I don’t think it needs to bother us whether people have other perspectives; we have to build our education to start thinking about the other person’s needs and that’s good for us because by learning about other nations and other countries we can understand ourselves better and see more options and perspectives. It’s like a boomerang, but not in a negative sense: what you give you get back in an even better way. I think that, yes, the differences really can be eliminated and what will remain will be a better understanding of humanity, because humanity is what the whole world shares in common. Learning about other people makes me a better person too.
How does the SCLA-GIDI training programme equip colleagues with this kind of empathy?
OT: Empathy is something very basic to mediation as a whole. The institution of mediation is based on certain principles – some are typical procedural principles, but others are the core of mediation. What would a mediator be if he or she can’t feel empathy for the parties? What would the parties achieve if they cannot access this way of thinking? So, without this core skill, mediation would stop very soon because we can’t access each other’s feelings, needs and interests.
Empathy, to me, is the core of everything. When I meet parties, I’m working with in caucuses, I tend to be the devil’s advocate and ask them “what did you think about yourself after that dispute-resolution meeting?” or “what do you think about having the the other party in your life? Are you going to start communicating with him or her?” I want to see if they’re thinking beyond these stereotypes they’ve created in their minds. If they can’t practise empathy and feel what it’s like being in someone else’s shoes, I think the process cannot continue. Participants and the SCLA-GIDI course need to really emphasise and feel this for themselves, because if they can’t do that, they will not think about it in other situations.
I had a discussion with my sister the other day, and I said people are always in such a hurry these days – they really have no time for anything. I said, “how are we going to live these kinds of lives?” Because when people see a door the only thing, they think of is to rush through it, and not to look to see if there’s anyone else who’s also in a hurry to leave the building. I always wait for the person coming in through the door to come in first because I think he or she has a better reason to hurry than I do. This is a very basic element – to see how one can think about the other. Little things in our daily lives can be changed if we start thinking about empathy.
Thank you for your time, Olga! This has been a great conversation and you’ve really stimulated thoughts that lawyers need to consider more often.
Are you inspired to learn more and join the ranks of SCLA’s trained mediators? Sign up now to gain free early access to the next training programme: https://www.scla.world/iapml-form/