Ten Best Practices for Mediators Derived from Neuroscience: The Start of Mediation (#1-3)

Mediation parties are subject to repeated physiological stress triggers at the start of mediation. The build up of hormones as a result of these triggers can disrupt the mediation process by interfering with a parties’ ability to process information, consider other points of view and make decisions.



  1. Start mediations with a short caucus session with each party immediately before joint session (“Early Caucus”).

Starting with Early Caucus helps minimize stress on the parties and maximize understanding by the mediator of the parties’ current emotional state. Short 5-10 meetings with each party and their counsel immediately before joint session gives mediators an opportunity to assess the emotional state of the parties and start to deal with or prepare for strong emotional outbursts. It also serves to diminish stress on the parties (See #2 below).


  1. To reduce stress, focus at the start of every mediation on:
  • Building trust and rapport,
  • Fostering a sense of control for parties, and
  • Establishing an atmosphere of security and calm.

Parties in mediation are subject to a large array of stressors that will trigger the physiological stress response. Mediators can use traditional mediation tools to reduce this stress in an Early Caucus: 1) build trust and rapport with parties by engaging them in conversation before they are brought into a room with their adversary, 2) emphasize self-determination and give parties an opportunity to ask questions about the mediation process, and 3) model a calm tone.


  1. Acknowledge and normalize stress as well as emotions.

Mediators have traditionally been taught to acknowledge emotions, but it is equally important to acknowledge stress. Mediation parties are in a situation where many triggers will be present, from coming to an unfamiliar location, to meeting the mediator for the first time, to anticipating an encounter with their adversary. Mediators can suggest methods parties can use to cope with stress like taking a few deep breaths or calling for a break.

The entire Top Ten List can be seen here.

— Jill Tanz


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