How do you loop someone who is very quiet?
The short answer is “with sensitivity and care.”
Looping (the loop of understanding) is seeking to understand the other and confirm that the other has, in fact, felt understood. That implicitly assumes that the other does indeed wish to be understood. The very quiet person may wish to be understood and simply have difficulty expressing him/herself. Or she/he may not wish to be understood, at least at that moment. So looping the quiet person may best start with an inquiry. (Indeed all looping is an inquiry – “this is what I understand you to be expressing. Do I have it right?”) In other words, looping is based on the premise that I would like to see if I understand what you may be seeking to express if that is OK with you. (Like everything else in mediation, it means “proceeding by agreement” — one of our core principles.)
With the quiet person, it can be important to make that premise explicit. We can seek to see if the party is willing to express himself and what support he might need in doing so.
“I want to try to understand what is important to you here, and I would like to see if that is OK to explore this with you. As you often seem fairly quiet, I do not know whether you generally express yourself in this way (quietly), whether you find it difficult to express yourself here, or whether you would prefer not to do so, at least at this time. Are you willing to say if any of those are true for you or whether there may be another reason?”
In other words, we are “looping the dynamic” that may flow from the nature of the party’s quietness. It may be that the quiet party might also have a concern about how the other party might respond (getting upset or angry) which may need to be explored with one or both parties (if they are willing to do so), and an agreement reached how to proceed (which will need to be monitored if there is a willingness by both parties to proceed).
Assuming that the quiet party indicates a willingness to express herself, and agrees she wishes to do so, we can then have that dialogue about the substance of what the party might wish to express (perhaps with difficulty and/or hesitation). Of course, we will need continually to check whether the effort to understand (and be understood) is going well and whether we are correctly understanding what the party seeks to express. And we will do well to continue to be mindful of the dynamic surrounding the party’s effort to express himself. For example, asking of the party, and of oneself, “Is this alright that we continue in this way?”