The approach? Be gentle. Talk around the edges. Nothing direct. Build a picture for yourself. But, more important, create an atmosphere where Olivia feels safe with you. Your goal is not to become her best friend or her confidant. You are not her representative. Your goal is to progress the mediation but in the process each participant needs to feel you are trustworthy + above board.
Easy to say but harder to achieve. A mediator will be suspected that he/she is doing the work of the Company or representing Harry + his wife. Olivia will need reassurance that you are a safe port in the storm. In part this depends on the words you use + on the manner you adopt. This is an individual quality for the mediator. It is you + the kind of person you are. It is about your personal integrity. Are your motives sincere? Can you control your ego? Are you sufficiently skilled to remove the leaves of the artichoke one by one – smoothly?
There is no identikit for the effective mediator. Good mediators will reach the same destination using different personal skills. Some are buoyant; some quiet; some talkative; some restrained. But in meeting Olivia you have topics that you need to address so let them emerge. The narrative – sensitively encouraged by you – will bring out the key issues.
Start at the beginning; non-threatening exploratory questions. How did you come to Human Resources? A levels, home life, parents – just to build a picture of her career and, maybe, her personal development. Be a good listener. No hectoring, no volley of inquisitive questions – just a nudge here, a word there. Olivia will want to talk, will want to unburden herself of her inner conflicts and will do so with you but only if, instinctively, she sees you as fair, understanding and reassuring.