One of the many ‘evil’ traits that frequently are displayed by parties in mediation is selective perception. People form their own idea of an event or situation and then anything that is said or information that arises after the fact which contradicts their opinion is dismissed or ignored.
I say it is ‘evil’ as selective perception hinders the process of getting the parties to work in a collaborative and cooperative mindset. Selective perception does not allow the party to see and understand the interests of the other party.
As the mediator it is important to realize this is being displayed. I think it is important for a mediator to know the names of behaviors and actions such as selective perception and other attribution biases listed [here]. Sure, a good mediator can help move the party away from a hindering position while not knowing the name of the act but it makes things easier knowing it because then it will be easier to respond accordingly. Step one is naming it, while step two would be properly responding.
Getting the party to open up more about their thought process behind their position can not only help display a potential selective perception to you, but it then can also be picked up by him or her- the one displaying it.
If the person does not pick up on it, and then after the other party presents their side of the event, many times, what I do is ask the first party something is along the lines of, “It sounds like party B viewed the event/situation different to way you described it. Now that you have heard his/her version, what do you think?” It might seem unnatural to ask an open-ended question but by doing it this way it diminishes the chance for a one word answer. The more they talk, the more they think about what they are saying and going to say.
A note I would like to mention is I do this with both parties. If I were to do this type of questioning with just one party it could present the illusion I am picking sides and trying to get one side to change their mind. Checking in with party A after party B has spoken (and vice versa) is a way to ensure they are effectively listening as well as opening their mind to the other side’s viewpoint. Promoting empathy is crucial to assist the party(s) move away from their selective perception. I tend to stress that understanding the other side’s point of view is not agreeing with them.
In order for an agreement to be reached in mediation, I tell them both sides have to agree. As simple and possibly silly it might sound, I think reminding the parties if an agreement is possible of being achieved, each one needs to be able to understand the other.
Enjoy and I hope this little ‘golden nugget’ helps.
Jeff Thompson is a certified international mediator. He is also a law enforcement detective in New York. His law enforcement role include a being a communication and conflict specialist, interfaith dialogue, developing and implementing community engagement programs, and designing training workshops.
Jeff is currently a PhD candidate researching nonverbal communication and mediation at Griffith University Law School. He also received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Creighton University School of Law. Jeff has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally and has been published and featured with numerous international media organizations. He currently writes also at PsychologyToday.com.
(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions as a mediator and not that of any organization.)
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