Any conflict, whether taking place in a workplace or at home can be a distressing affair.  When people come to the table to try and resolve their problems, they come with a great deal of baggage. These emotions often get in the way of humans being able to make rational decisions and can hamper the dispute resolution.  Mediators, therefore, emphasise early in the mediation process the underlying emotions as the key to a peaceful and healthy conflict resolution. The initial consultations privately with each party provide the opportunity to explore the emotional landscape.

Then through the mediation process, people often experience feelings of grief, loss, anger, betrayal, denial and a sense of failure. While it is normal to feel such strong emotions, the mediator will take responsibility upon themselvesto strike a fine balance between creating a safe haven to allow these emotions to surface and letting the process of mediation take its course. Failure to deal with these emotions will not be beneficial to either side in the long run. Instead, emotions expressed can lead to productive and substantial results.

How do Mediators Help Navigate the Emotional Landscape?

  1. We can pick a place that is neutral – In order to get the best from everyone involved, mediators usually pick a place or venue that is not threatening to their client’s emotional state. For example, if it is a divorce proceeding, conducting mediation in either of the spouses’ home could be counterproductive. For a commercial mediation, a private meeting room may be hired to prevent the mediation session from taking place in the offices of either corporate party. Accounting firms are often very accommodating.  Serviced offices are avaialable.
  1. We watch the body – While words can bend the truth, a person’s body language is often triggered by their deepest thoughts. More often than notpeople are unaware of their own body language so the mediator’s job is to watch for signs of discomfort or distress.
  1. We create a safe place – Mediation can be an emotionally charged environment, but the people have to feel like they are in a safe environment where they can freely express their thoughts and emotions. The mediator facilitates the discussion so that the disputing parties can express their feelings without feeling stifled or crowded. Once they have had their say, often the process will be a lot more effective as it allows for them to think with a clearer head and a different presence of mind.
  1. We separate emotions from behaviour – If an individual behaves inappropriately it can be curtailed by enforcing a few established rules. However, sometimes peoplemay be operating from a place of deep emotional distress and the mediator watches out for such signs.  Breaks are always possible in the flexible process.
  1. We give way for options without judgement – At times a person can feel awkward about expressing their feelings in front of others. The mediator may then encourage a break and a private session with the individual to allow them to open up in a more private environment and reality test the discussion before resuming the joint session.The private session often gives people the chance to rehearse what they would like to say and hear how it sounds before using it to progress the discussions.
  1. We identify emotional triggers – It is important to identify the reason behind why someone feels a certain way. These are often called triggers, and one of the best ways the mediator understands a trigger is to ask all the right questions in the private initial consultation sessions and private caucus during the joint session of mediation.
  1. We promote emotional literacy – The mediator talks to everyone concerned, from lawyers to supporting family members, about the need to for people to express emotions to achieve resolution. This will give the people involved in mediation the permission and the right environment to express their feelings. Once their feelings are out it in the open, it paves the way for a healthy resolution.

While the end point of mediation may be to reach a settlement that is beneficial to both parties, the emotional satisfaction of both parties will ultimately determine its true success. Mediation is about resolution, both legally and personally for everyone rather than just finding a solution to make the problem go away.