In part 1 of my column, I discussed the psychology of mediation, presenting study materials that were developed by a European project for mediators based on my previous publications.
Here again are excerpts from the TIME project (the European Project to Train Intercultural Mediators) on the psychology of mediation and impasse.
Ego and Self-Esteem Issues: Major Psychological Obstacles to Resolving Conflicts
Most people perceive conflict as a threat to their ego and may react in an aggressive or defensive way. Underlying feelings of shame or vulnerability often lead to hostile behavior or feeling insulted. Persons who feel very vulnerable may think that who they are is contingent on the outcome of the mediation or what others think about them. The process of mediation is dominated by all these postures and the reactions of the parties (and the mediator) thereto.
Ego and Self-Esteem During Mediation Impasse
The issues of self and identity are particularly important during the stages of deflation and impasse. As far as the mediator is concerned, it is very important that they keep their commitment to do what is right for the parties. The mediator shouldn’t focus on what is right for their own self-image. In other words, the mediator has to release the sense of narcissistic self-investment in the outcome.
The parties, on the other hand, also need to release their psychological investments in the outcome of the mediation process. The key objective for the clients is to learn to let go; to do what is best for their long-term interests, not their injured pride. They need to realize that compromise does not mean that they are personally inadequate; rather, it is necessary because we live in a world of conflicting interests. The mediator can help parties gain the sense of self-and-other by considering the needs and requirements of all the people involved in the conflict and evaluating useful options.
Helping Parties Through Impasse
When impasse occurs, the mediator can do two things in order to help the parties move on:
- depersonalize the impasse and sense of result, and
- help parties evaluate the options they have that are objectively useful to them, even if they are not the solutions the parties had initially envisioned.
Parties either respond to that, moving on to realistic resolution, or they persist in their impasse and the mediation process ends there.
At an interpersonal level, “mirroring” and “looping” are very useful techniques employed in mediation. Forms of active listening, these techniques allow the mediator to reflect back to the other party the content of their communication. This way the mediator ensures mutual understanding and recognition, helping parties to relax, feel secure and better understand themselves.
About the author:
Elizabeth Bader, who has been a lawyer for over 30 years, has successfully mediated variety of cases including complex, multi-party litigation. Her award-winning insights and publications on the psychology of mediation have won her high praise within both the legal and psychology professions. She is a mediator for The Bay Area Mediation Services of BASF. Learn more about the panel here: http://www.sfbar.org/adr/mediation.aspx.