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Sound Isolation in Mediation Rooms


With people losing half an hour a week due to problems with the acoustics in their office building, sound issues are already a problem generally.[1]Add to that the heightened emotional situation of a mediation, and things like cars beeping outside, or people speaking loudly in the room next door, become debilitating. Competing with distracting background noise by having to repeat yourself or ask for information to be repeated is uncomfortable enough during a conference call – but in the atmosphere of a mediation, which is already tipped unfavourably towards tension, it becomes unbearable. This is why properly sound isolating Mediation Rooms is so important. It is an essential part of making the environment in which the mediation is taking place as comfortable as possible. The conversation will already be difficult and it’s crucial that the acoustics of the room don’t add to that.

Barbara Madonik is a pioneering mediator who introduced the practical use of nonverbal communication in Canada’s legal system.[2] In her book, I Hear What You Say, But What Are You Telling Me? The Strategic Use of Nonverbal Communication in Mediation, she details the importance of every mediation party feeling their needs are being met equally, and the significant role physical environments play in this. She divides people up according to their “preferences” – visual, acoustic, and kinaesthetic – and suggests that these preferences inform what makes a room comfortable or not for a particular person. For instance, ‘parties with a visual preference…need neat, clean, and attractive environments. When areas appear messy or disorganized… they feel uncomfortable and lack the ability to concentrate.’ On the other hand, ‘people with a kinaesthetic preference… want chairs that mould to their bodies and table heights that make it easy for them to write.’ And, most relevant for our purposes, ‘people with an auditory preference… need a quiet environment to operate most productively’ as ‘their attention to sound is so acute that most noises disturb them and direct their attention away from mediation.’[3] Since the mediation parties will be made up of people with different preferences, it’s important to create an environment which provides for them all equally, so that one party doesn’t feel subconsciously hard-done-by. However, I would argue that, while different people may prefer these things to greater and lesser extents than each other, most people would ideally prefer to have all three. No-one enjoys a messy room or an uncomfortable chair, and people certainly don’t enjoy being unable to hear what others are saying, or to make themselves heard – especially in a situation when communication is so paramount to progress.

Madonik recalls a time when she held ‘a pre-mediation caucus in a boardroom that shared a wall with another office’ and ‘the voice of the lawyer next door boomed through the wall.’[4] Not only was her meeting constantly interrupted by the shouting in the next room, but she and her client were overhearing private conversations, which was not only embarrassing but also made the client seriously concerned that his conversations would be equally easy to overhear.[5] To avoid these sorts of occurrences, Madonik suggests doing a reconnaissance of the room being used for mediation: ‘Is this a quiet area of an office floor or a room next to ringing faxes, telephones, or elevators? Is it only a thin wall away from a loud-voiced speaker?’[6] If it’s the latter case, and you can’t move rooms, there are certain things you can do to soundproof. Plush pillows, rugs, and thick carpet absorb noise, preventing it from permeating the space and minimising echo. You can hang soundproof curtains over windows or walls to deflect sound waves, which keeps noise from the street and elsewhere in the building from entering the room; and there is also the option of “acoustical wallpaper” which soundproofs your walls. You might also opt for white noise played through a speaker, something peaceful like water sounds, which draws attention away from distracting noises outside and focusses it on something calming. These are measures which yoga studios take in order to make their environments as peaceful as possible.[7] They do feel temporary, however. If the room is your own, you could invest in more permanent solutions to structurally soundproof it and create a quiet and more comfortable space for everyone. You could use soundproof drywall, acoustical ceiling tile, hanging baffles, acoustic foam, or other solutions outlined in this article by Alec Olson.[8]

It is also important to decide on a mobile phone policy in the mediation room before mediation begins. Madonik recommends that mobile phones be turned off, and ‘even the vibration signal must be eliminated, or parties receiving calls will still be disturbed. That personal disruption will be communicated nonverbally to other parties in the room.’[9] As she also states: ‘environments send messages.’[10] It’s important that the environment in which mediation takes place is one in which everyone feels comfortable enough to speak freely.

Author: Isobel Macleod


If you are seeking advice on any of the issues discussed in this article, please feel free to contact De Jure Chambers on 01223 643580 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will be happy to help.  

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[1] Franklin, Neil. “People Lose Half an Hour a Week to Poor Acoustics.” Workplace Insight, 3 Apr. 2020, workplaceinsight.net/people-lose-half-an-hour-a-week-to-poor-acoustics.

[2] “Barbara G. Madonik.” Mediate.Com, www.mediate.com/author/Barbara-G.-Madonik/372. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.

[3] Madonik, Barbara G. “Managing the Mediation Environment.” Mediate.Com, www.mediate.com/articles/madonik.cfm. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] Wolf, Katherine. “Soundproofing Meditation Rooms.” Soundproof Direct, 31 Dec. 2019, soundproofdirect.com/soundproofing-meditation-rooms.

[8] Olson, Alec. “7 Simple Solutions to Improve Meeting Room Acoustics [Infographic].” Avi Systems, 27 July 2017, www.avisystems.com/blog/simple-solutions-improve-room-acoustics.

[9] Madonik, Barbara G. “Managing the Mediation Environment.” Mediate.Com, www.mediate.com/articles/madonik.cfm. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.

[10] Madonik, Barbara G. “Managing the Mediation Environment.” Mediate.Com, www.mediate.com/articles/madonik.cfm. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.

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