7 Strategies to Overcome Common Emotional Threats in Mediations

In my last blog, I explained why it’s so important to understand the psychology and neuroscience of conflict in order to engage effectively in a mediation.  I talked about an “amygdala hijack” which is an emotional response that occurs when strong emotions virtually take over the thinking part of your brain making it difficult, or sometimes even impossible, to think rationally.  

An Amygdala hijack is something you want to avoid at all costs during a mediation as it will make it almost impossible to reach a resolution.  Here are 7 strategies that you can use to help ensure that your client stays calm, rational and in control of their emotions during a mediation:

Remove the uncertainty

It is so important prior to the mediation to spend time with your client explaining the mediation process.  Explain to your client in detail exactly how the mediation will be run, the role of each party, the role of the mediator etc. Your client may never have attended a mediation before so be careful what knowledge you assume they already have.  Be specific so there are no surprises on the day.  The goal is to minimise any feelings of being totally overwhelmed from the outset, which could cloud any rational thoughts and decisions. 

Treat your client with respect

Do not skim over the information you provide to your client.  Although you (should) know your case inside out, your client is unlikely to be privy to the legal or evidentiary intricacies of the matter.  Explain the issues in a way that will be understood to ensure that your client is not blindsided by copious amounts of information they have never heard before. This will make them feel more comfortable and more certain about the process.  It will help them to feel empowered and in control during the mediation.

Remain professional and polite – always  

This can be difficult when you have an aggressive, domineering opponent or a hostile party.  In this situation, it is important to separate the issue from the person.  There is no place in a successful mediation for toxic language, derogatory comments or personal attacks.  Such behaviour is guaranteed to be perceived as an attack on someone’s sense of self worth and the natural response is defensiveness. 

Manage your client’s expectations – preferably before the mediation

Ensure that your client is aware of all the evidence and arguments that will be presented from both sides so they do not feel threatened, confused or surprised on the day. Make sure that they understand the strengths and weaknesses of their case and are briefed on what arguments the opposition is likely to present.  This will all help your client to remain calm and feel in control.  

Create a safe space for your client.  

Ensure that you have an appropriate breakout room where you can speak with your client privately, they can take a breather if needed and can collect their thoughts.  Remain mindful that mediations can be highly stressful and constantly take note of the emotional temperature of your client and other parties.  If tempers are rising or parties are becoming agitated, then request a break and try to re-set. Making sure that your client feels comfortable and safe can go a long way to helping them stay calm and rational.

Empower your client 

Often parties just need to feel heard for a successful resolution to take place.  If your client wants to make an opening statement, then prepare them for this and let them have their say.  Keep them informed and updated during the mediation and listen to their comments and concerns so they do not feel isolated and excluded.   Locking your client away alone in a small room for hours on end is not going to help them feel empowered or in control of the situation. 

Use your mediator  

Firstly, choose the right mediator for the matter (see my blog from March 2021 on how to choose the right mediator).  Secondly, utilise the skills of your mediator.  It is one role of the mediator to manage the behaviour and emotions of the parties and a good mediator will be able to disarm anger, neutralise a heated environment and steer discussions in the right direction.  A mediator will actively listen to the parties and build a good rapport and a trusting relationship.  If you feel you are losing control over your client, or your client cannot manage their emotions, then ask the mediator for help.

 

Mediations can be a highly effective way to resolve a matter if conducted well.  The benefits of understanding the psychology and neuroscience behind emotions cannot be underestimated.   Adopting the strategies suggested above can assist to minimise, contain and even avoid an amygdala hijack, which will ultimately increase the potential for a successful resolution. 

If you would like to discuss the skills and approach that I bring to a mediation, please contact me on 0412 048 456 or by email on jsomerville@r3resolutions.com.au.

 

Understanding the role of emotion in a mediation

Mediations can be highly emotional for all parties involved, but especially so for claimants.  For them, it’s often the only chance they will have to be heard, to say their piece and to finally put a matter to rest.  They are likely to be stressed, fatigued from the drawn-out litigation process, confused, upset, hurt and angry.  Similarly, respondents’ emotions can also be strong when stakes are high, reputations are at risk, funds are limited and facts and circumstances are in dispute. 

No matter which side you’re on, understanding and learning to manage your client’s unpredictable, fluctuating emotions is a really important skill to master for a mediation to be successful.

Understanding the emotions

To engage effectively in a mediation, we need to understand the psychology and neuroscience of conflict.  This means understanding what promotes or inhibits a person’s ability to shift their perspective of the dispute and then be in a position to compromise it.   

For claimants, the dispute is usually very personal and strong emotions can easily cloud a claimant’s ability to listen and understand reasonable and logical arguments.  It’s often the emotional element of conflict that can turn a mere difference of opinion into an intense and unnecessary dispute.  This emotional response has a name – an “amygdala hijack”.  

The amygdala is a cluster of cells near the base of the brain which help to define and regulate emotions and is also responsible for activating a person’s “fight or flight” response. The amygdala is key to how we process strong emotions like fear or stress.  An “amygdala hijack” occurs when strong emotions virtually take over the thinking part of your brain making it difficult, or sometimes even impossible, to think rationally.  It’s essentially an intense emotional reaction that is out of proportion to the circumstance.

It’s therefore really important during a mediation to understand and be mindful of the neuroscience behind conflict and to learn how to minimise and manage an amygdala hijack so that rational discussions can take place.

So what are some of the common things that can trigger the amygdala hijack?

Common threats

There is no doubt that mediations, almost by definition, are confrontational.  If not handled sensitively and correctly, there are some common circumstances in which parties may feel threatened and are therefore at risk of an amygdala hijack; for example when the parties:

  • are unsure and uncertain about the process or the end result;
  • feel disrespected, not valued or insignificant;
  • feel their concept of self worth or self esteem is damaged;
  • do not believe they are heard and understood;
  • perceive they lack control or power over the outcome.

More often than not, these threats are things that can be contained and managed by you.  By understanding these triggers and spending the time to put strategies in place before and during a mediation, the amygdala hijack can often be avoided.  If you are able to keep your client calm, in control of their emotions and rational, a mediation is far more likely to be successful.  

In my next blog, I will outline 7 strategies to overcome these common emotional threats.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the skills and approach that I bring to a mediation, please contact me on 0412 048 456 or by email on jsomerville@r3resolutions.com.au.