As mediators, I am continuously monitoring the rhetoric between participants to the mediation. I listen for the tone, language, substance and manner of delivery in this consideration. The point is not to discern “good” or “bad” communication; rather it is to determine how we can be of assistance.
If the communication seems to be moving things forward, I may sit back and do nothing other than pay attention. This is the mediator “ holding space” for the discussion. If the conversation seems to be moving backward, then I consider what steps, if any, I might take. Do I need to reference any agreed upon guidelines (I don't use ground rule, just guidelines). Do participants need a break or private time (caucus) to review and think about the recent exchange? Or, is the moving backward an opportunity?
Obviously, paying close attention is the key to our work as mediators and in this manner we can make crucial mediator decisions about how we do our work. Over time I’ve learned that even if the discussion appears to be moving backward, this may be just what the participants need to move forward. It is, after all, their dispute and a privilege for us as mediators to serve in our role.