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“Sentiment Analysis”

by Phyllis Pollack
October 2009

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

       Last week, I discussed a study focusing on the effect of e-mediation (that is, a software program) on negotiating behavior. The study sought to determine whether a computer could mediate as well as, if not better than, a person. While the computer did reach resolution more often, people still preferred using the “live” flesh and blood mediator.

       In my mediations, I have often found that a dispute arose due to a lack of communication or a miscommunication. That is, people did not mean what they said or did not say what they meant (or did not say it at all).

       Now, it seems that there is a computer program to help us accurately understand each other (and avoid disputes altogether.) In the Technology section of the October 6, 2009 edition of The Economist, the authors discuss using computers to analyze sentiments. In their article entitled, “An Emotional Response,” the authors discuss research (by Stephen Pulman of the University of Oxford and Karo Moilanen, one of his doctoral students), using “Sentiment Analysis” software, to assess the emotional meaning of text and then labeling the words as positive, negative or neutral:

      “The analysis is then broken into steps that progressively take into account larger and larger grammatical chunks, updating the sentiment score of each entity as it goes. . . .”

      “By applying and analyzing emotional labels, the software can construct sentiment scores for the concepts mentioned in the texts, as a combination of positive, negative or neutral results. . . .” (Id.)


       But the software does not simply do a tally; rather it applies a weighting to each word so that in the end, the software can determine whether a sentence has mainly a negative, positive or neutral meaning.

      So, you wonder – to what use can this software be put? It seems that it can be used by companies seeking to identify unhappy customers (in an effort to stave off litigation such as “lemon law” suits) and by intelligence agencies seeking to determine if that e-mailer really does pose a threat to national security.

       My question is whether such software should be part of my mediation toolbox so that when people say something to me, I can let the software tell me whether it was meant in a positive, negative or neutral context. It will let me know whether the party really said what she meant or meant what she said! If so, then so much for reading body language and knowing all of those other “tricks” in my toolbox. Now, computer software can do “it” all for me, including resolving the dispute! Technology . . .where is it taking us! Maybe, “back to the future!” 

       . . . Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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