Ten Best Practices for Mediators Derived from Neuroscience: Managing Emotions (#6-8)

Strong emotions are common in mediation. Parties often arrive at the session full of resentment and joint sessions can provoke anger, disappointment, or embarrassment. Ignoring strong emotions is risky as it is trigger for the physiologic stress response.



6.Encourage parties to name their emotions rather than labeling them.

Mediation training often suggests ways to acknowledge emotions as a way to reduce the emotions. Studies show that strong emotions are most effectively diminished when the party names the emotion rather than when a third party labels them. Rather than saying, “it sounds like this is making you angry …” try “What emotion are you feeling right now?”


 7. Use strong emotions to uncover underlying interests.

Strong emotions are usually good evidence that the topic under discussion is very important to the emotional party. Mediators should try to understand what is triggering the emotion and what needs and interests could help relieve the emotion. Mediators can ask, “What could help you feel less angry (or betrayed or whatever emotion has been revealed).”


8. Reduce venting to avoid increasing stress.

Some mediation literature suggest that allowing parties to vent can release pent up emotion and allow parties to focus on solutions. This is not true. Venting strong emotions is a powerful trigger of the stress response and can lead to high stress hormone levels that make settlement less likely. Although venting can sometimes reveal underlying interests, it is more likely to provoke a defensive response in the opposing side and lead to higher stress levels for all the parties involved. Mediators should not encourage venting, but when a party displays strong emotions it is best that it be done in a caucus with the mediator before joint session. This will give the mediator insight into the emotional level of the party and give the party time to recover from high stress hormone levels before getting to the decision-making portion of the process.

The entire Top Ten List can be seen here.


— Jill Tanz

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