Feelings and emotions are an integral part of any mediation or negotiation. When I give talks or training on mediations involving money disputes, such as credit-card debt cases (read the Newsweek article here), people think it is cut and dry- go back and forth on offers and either there is a deal or no deal.
Yes, maybe some are like that but every mediation, even the ones I have handled which were settled faster than the length of my opening “welcome to mediation” statement, included expressing emotions and feelings. People want to be able to speak, and want to know they have been heard. This is where a mediator really helps with the process. Acknowledging statements by summarizing, validating and reframing are some of the best tools a mediator can have in their toolbox.
Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen wrote the book Difficult Conversations in which Chapter 5 is dedicated to feelings. This chapter explains how important feelings are, how to acknowledge the other person’s feelings and how equally important to express yours.
Some quick tidbits from the chapter:
Feelings are often at the heart of difficult conversations Allowing feelings to be surfaced increases the chance for the mediation/negotiation to go well. Unexpressed feelings can leak into the conversation. No one likes leaks, right? Trying to breeze through the mediation and ignoring the feelings present can have them leak, or even worse, burst, and the worst moment. How might they leak out? Through your tone, body language, facial expressions, and silence are all examples.
Unexpressed feelings make it difficult to listen. I am a big advocate of the saying seek to understand before seeking to be understood. It does not mean do not look to be understood, it’s important to realize that is second part of the statement. Holding your feelings in will do no good if you are the one involved in the negotiation. It will keep building up and cloud the mind diminishing your ability to listen effectively.
Unexpressed feelings take a toll on our self-esteem and relationships. Keeping your feelings out of the conversation keeps an important part of you out it.
Learn where your feelings hide. Feelings can be good at hiding and disguising themselves; be a good detective and find them!
Explore your emotional footprint. How were feelings expressed by you and those around you growing up? Were they welcomed and openly shared?
Accept that feelings are normal and natural. Yes, you are odd if you haven’t felt feelings… ever! Recognize that good people can have bad feelings. I found this one particularly interesting as I often say people are not good or bad but it is their actions which are good and bad. They describe it as, for example, the assumption that good people should not get angry, fail, or a burden.
Learn that you feelings are important as theirs. Some of us can’t see our own feelings because we have learned somewhere along the way that other people’s feelings are more important than ours (page 93).
As mediators, we keep our feelings out of the negotiation between the parties. I find it very important to remind myself, and others, when we are not mediating and are involved in our own difficult conversations or negotiations that it is okay for feelings to be expressed.
My 3 steps in regards to feelings:
1) Recognize feelings. If it’s anger, tell yourself you are angry. Don’t say it’s okay if it isn’t.
2) Understand feelings. Okay, I am angry. Now connect the reasons or contributing factors leading to your anger.
3) Express feelings. Important factors in expressing your feelings in a healthy way include timing and realizing the other person might not know you feel this way and/or might see the situation differently.
Don’t let hidden feelings block other emotions. Page 96 lists a chart titled A Landscape of Sometimes Hard-to-find-Feelings. For example under love is affectionate, caring, close and proud while under gratitude is appreciative, thankful, relieved, and admiring.
Find the feelings lurking under attributions, judgments and accusations. These three can led to misunderstandings as well as defensive actions by both sides.
We translate our feelings into: Judgments, Attributions, Characterizations and Problem-Solving (page98).
Don’t use feelings as Gospel (or Sutra!): Negotiate with them. Remember, feelings, no matter how strong are impermanent.
Don’t vent, describe feelings carefully. Frame feelings back into the problem, express the full spectrum of your feelings, and don’t evaluate- just share.
How do you share- express your feelings without judging, don’t monopolize (both sides can have strong feelings at the same time!), and start with, “I feel…”
Sometimes feelings are all that matter. Yes, I have mediated cases that seemed to drag on and on, heels were being dug in deeper and deeper and then finally one side acknowledged the other side was hurt by the situation and apologized for their feelings being hurt (apologies are for another day!). The person said they were happy now and that was all they wanted- for the other party to know and acknowledge they were hurt.
This is meant to be just a quick introduction to how feelings are ever present and are by no means intended to be an all inclusive writing on the topic. If you are interested in learning more about these points and difficult conversations in general, I recommend you purchase the book Difficult Conversations. It is available [here] at Amazon and many other locations.
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.)