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Conflict is Contagious

by Jeff Thompson
May 2014

Enjoy Mediation Blog by Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson

Mediators, coaches, negotiators, and ombuds- your verbal and nonverbal actions are contagious. As "guides" in assisting people involved in conflicts and disputes, you can help or hinder them on their journey.

Sometimes your actions and words spoken are purposely done, yet other times unknowingly you "leak" out anxiety, stress, and discomfort.

A recent study demonstrates how your stress can be contagious.

From one of my favorite sites PsyBlog:
Seeing another person under stress — even when you’re not involved in the situation — is enough to activate the stress hormone cortisol in your body as well, according to a new study.
In the study, conducted by German psychologists, people who were emotionally closest to each other, demonstrated the highest empathic stress response (Engert et al., 2014).
So what does this mean for conflict resolution professionals?

I first recommend being aware of your verbal and nonverbal actions by preparing properly. Preparing can help you not give out stress signals that can then be "caught" by the parties you are trying to assist.

Building rapport, demonstrating patience, and displaying control of the process (while maintaining self-determination) allows you to promote positive signals that also can be contagious. [Here's some quick tips on how to build rapport and how it can be diminished- all based on research]

Another important element is slowing the process and not rushing towards a resolution- regardless of how "perfect" you think it is. It is no wonder crisis and hostage negotiators constantly practice this.

Research shows that both positive and negative signals are contagious. Are professionals, you have the choice in guiding the parties down different paths. Being aware of your signals is the first step in helping decide which path with be selected.

Biography


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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