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Mediators To Be Fined For Body Language?

by Jeff Thompson
November 2010

From Jeff Thompson's Enjoy Mediation Blog

Jeff Thompson

Will Mediators be the next to be fined?

American football team the New York Jets will be fining star quarterback Mark Sanchez each time he slumps his shoulders, hangs his head down or trudges off the practice field.

The most interesting thing about this unique fining system is it was not the front office or coaching staff that created this- it was Sanchez!

He has made it his goal this season to eliminate his negative body language and the fining system for infringements is a way for him to remain mindful of when negative gestures are performed.

Now lets transition to the conflict resolution and mediation field. Of course it is silly to imagine (right?) something similar to be rolled out by the ABA or ACR but I think if anything, this is a reminder to us as mediators, ombudsman and coaches- supposedly communication experts- to be mindful of how we communicate other than the words we are using.

A famous study tells us only 7% of our communication is done via the actual words being spoken while over 50% is through body language (38% is tone). Something I always remind people, especially when I am giving a training (yes, I give trainings on nonverbal communication and I welcome inquiries!) is that you have to be mindful of the "leakage" type gestures.

These adaptors, both self-adaptors and object adaptors , are gestures we do that is not intended to communication with others but rather it 'leaks' out. Think playing with your wedding ring while presenting (object adaptor) or rubbing/touching the back of your neck when you become uncomfortable (self-adaptor).

The photo on the left is an exaggeration of someone being bored but think for a moment- what is your body language saying when you are listening to one of the parties give their story? Are you 'showing' them you are listening? This picture shows the difference of your 'head on your hand' compared to your 'hand on your head'. The first gives off the impression usually of being bored while the second often displays interest and analysis.

Keep in mind also is the message you are giving (encoding) being received the way you intended it to be (decoded)?

Finally, something else to consider when being mindful of body language, both your own and others, is the Three C's- Congruence, Context and Clusters.

Congruence- If you are interested in what is being said, is your body showing this? Think of some ways that shows interest and disinterest.

Context- Think of the gestures you and others do in relation to the current situation.

Clusters- The best way to interpret and understand gestures is looking at combinations of the nonverbals being displayed along with what is being said. For example, if someone has there arms crossed across their chest. Are they also facing away, where is their eye contact, are they 'huffing' or sighing?

Looking at the cluster of gestures, which often will be subtle, helps you establish if the person is cold or being standoffish in the above example.

You do not need to fine yourself in order to be mindful of your body language. One thing I suggest often to people is practice. Most laptops come with webcams, so why not tape your opening statement and then review it to see what your body is saying? I recently conducted a small research on Christian Amanpour (formerly of CNN), host of ABC's This Week, to see what self adaptors she displayed after asking her panelists a question. The results are very interesting. See below for what I consider two drastic adaptors showing negative 'leakage' in photo one while I think photo two displays positive 'leakage'.


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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