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Treat All Negotiators As Your Equal

by Jeff Thompson
March 2009

From Jeff Thompson's Enjoy Mediation Blog

Jeff Thompson

Treat All Negotiators As Your Equal
Why? Well, firstly because treating others like enemies is for violent conflict and that is what we are trying to avoid with a negotiation/mediation, right? Treating the other person(s) like your equal has many advantages. One is as the mediator, if you are trying to show your neutrality, the best way is to treat both sides equal. It doesn't matter if you do not like or can not stand the position of a certain party.

A friendly reminder is that you are neutral and being so will help move the mediation along. Oh, and one important tip- if you feel you can not be, or remain neutral during the negotiation, you will not be stoned by some secret mediators society (... I think) for removing yourself.

Regardless if you are the mediator or a negotiation, treating the other(s) as an equal has many benefits. Let's look at a couple of the good traits of a mediator and negotiator and see if they could apply if you didn't give the other party respect:

Active Listening
Can you really listen to this person if you are not respecting them? Are you listening or just waiting for them to finish to counter their claim? Have you begun to try and look at their interests (you know- go beyond the positions)?

Actively listening is one of the best ways to show the other party your respect them and want to hear what they have to say.

Body Language
Yes, body language is important. Using it properly shows you are actively listening. First though, let me mention the negative- if you want to show the other negotiator you are there to put down everything he says and not actively listen do these: roll your eyes, look away (heck turn your body away too!), cross your arms, sigh, huff and puff (the more the better!) and finally point your finger, that will really get your point of disrespect across.

Just a reminder, the above are suggestions of what not to do :)

So what kinds of body language can you do that supports showing the other person you are treating them with respect, and actively listening? Some basics include nodding, facing the person when they are talking, saying 'ok' at times, hands folded on your lap or when talking 'open-handed gestures' and finally my personal favorite is to smile. yes, it is ok to smile, and it's one way to lighten the mood while also promoting friendliness.

An excellent way to genuinely give the other negotiator the feeling of respect and treating them as your equal is to put yourself in their shoes. This goes back to your preparation of your negotiation and should continue during the course of it as well. Ask yourself- what are they feeling? What are their interests? How would they like it if I offer this or that? Remember, in order for an agreement to be reached, both parties have to agree, so a good way to try and meet their goals (along with yours) is by using empathy.

Staying Positive
You attack enemies, not equals. You are hard on the problems not the person. Keeping those two statements in mind (and keeping this simple and brief) remember- just like how negative comments and actions are contagious, so are positive ones. Regardless of their actions, by staying positive helps show you are trying to work with them as well as respecting them.

Don't forget, a reason you chose to go to a negotiation/mediation is to try to work things out. Treating the other neogtiator as your equal helps create an atmosphere of collaboration. The same goes for you if you are the mediator, treating both parties equally helps you- the professional- display that respect you are asking both of your parties to show one another.


Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.

Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.

He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.

(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)

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