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What Role Does the Environment Have In Negotiation & Mediation?

by Jeff Thompson
March 2014

Enjoy Mediation Blog by Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson

If you had a choice in how to set up your mediation or negotiation room, how would it look?

I asked, as part of my PhD research at Griffith University Law School (I'm research nonverbal communication and mediation), this question. In one of my three studies I asked key informants/gate keepers of the mediation community (professors and trainers) who are responsible for training new mediators this question and the answers I think are fairly interesting.

Stop for a moment and think about it- even if you think some of this is common sense.

Think to yourself, does any research on this in mediation or negotiation exist? What I did was try to add scientific data to what we often hear- anecdotal stories.

I am not advocating one over the other either but rather I think we need both. That is what my first and second study do- the first study (not shared here in this article) got this type of information from nearly 400 mediators across the world via a survey.

Then, for this second study I used ethnographic interviewing skills to go a bit deeper with the answers from the survey and hear from those responsible for teaching mediator. These type of in-depth answers allow for the context to emerge which can complement or contradict the survey data. The actual thesis does not stop at just providing the information but rather from a qualitative research perspective, I looked for themes that emerged as well as shared my view on the data.

At the very least this can provide a practitioner an opportunity to reflect on the information and see how it fits (or doesn't) with their views.

Before I post some of their responses, ask yourself again- how would you set-up your room? Take a moment to think about all the aspects that you would take into account. Also think about what impact it might or might not have.
(lines skipped on purpose so while you think about it you don't peek at the replies)

Here are four different responses. Let me know what you think:

The ideal includes a room where the tables can be rearranged to make different shapes. There is value to different shapes. Circles are good but they can't be too big or too small.
Round tables; they are more intimate and encourage informality. Rectangle tables can give confidence to new mediators.
Clutter-free, includes a whiteboard and rectangle table. A rectangle table allows various seating locations.
Round table, parties should feel comfortable with chairs and space. A round table removes edges, everyone is working together.


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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