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 firstname.lastname@example.org.