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Mediation & Emotion – Help or Hinderance?


You’d have to say that for most of us normal human beings if we have a dispute we become emotional. It might be that we become angry, fearful, resentful, bitter, nervous or even traumatised. It’s rarely a positive emotion that displays when we sense a conflict and looming dispute. But very often, we know it’s important to control these emotions, as it clouds your judgement and objectivity.

Why do we shy away from emotion?

Simply put it’s uncomfortable. Symptoms like butterflies, sweaty palms, racing thoughts, shortness of breath are all indicators that we’ve been threatened in some way and our natural fight - flight - freeze instincts to some degree are triggered. Our innate response is to get away to protect ourselves.

These triggers were of great assistance when we were threatened by lions or tigers, but often do not work so well in our modern day lives where we have obligations to work with others, to collaborate and produce positive outcomes. We usually need to return to work or home or whatever situation has triggered us sometime and if we don’t then it’s probably not going to provide the best outcome for us.

There are tips and tricks you can invoke to help you “Keep Your Cool in High Stakes Communication” but generally when we are triggered by one of these negatives, our ability to make the best decisions are hampered.

Emotion is Normal.

My day to day work is all about disputes. Whether within my capacity as a mediator, litigator or business owner, I can hardly think of a day where I am not managing some existing or potential dispute.

I think it’s important to first acknowledge that emotion is normal and without emotion there would be no dispute in the first place. If we were all robots with no emotions then there would be little to discuss, but the world would be a less interesting place.

All disputes have drivers and without oversimplifying what can be very complex, when a relationship breaks down, there are a number of common key drivers. Often people feel their expectations have not been met, they have not been acknowledged or they feel threatened by something either real or imagined. Regardless, all of these situations will spark emotions and counter responses.

I regularly conduct mediations in the area of family law and particularly property settlement.

There’s a misconception that solicitors just want to jump straight in on the balance sheet and I’m often greeted with opening lines like “well this is just about the money so we don’t need to let them go into all of the emotional stuff.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Of course this is emotional! Two people who promised on some level to build a life together are pulling it apart with significant consequences for themselves and those they love. It’s going to be emotional.

To ignore this elephant