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<xTITLE>Are Mediators "Mr Or Ms Beige"? A BBC Article About Neuroscience Of Conflict Resolution (And Another Plug For Telling Your Clients About Their Brains)</xTITLE>

Are Mediators "Mr Or Ms Beige"? A BBC Article About Neuroscience Of Conflict Resolution (And Another Plug For Telling Your Clients About Their Brains)

by Stephanie West Allen
March 2010

From Stephanie West Allen's blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution.

Stephanie West Allen

Although the article may have some contradictions, I suggest that you read "Can our brains help us solve conflicts?" (BBC News Magazine).

An example of a possible contradiction is when Baroness Susan Greenfield is quoted as saying:

[I]n  conflict resolution, the parties should avoid "highly arousing" environments that could lead to irrationality. Instead, she recommends a familiar, unchallenging, and bland atmosphere - such as a beige hotel room.

She also says a neutral third party, such as a friend, arbitration service, or statesman, can act as "Mr or Ms Beige" and guide the conflict resolution.

Later in the article, her co-speaker lawyer and mediator Jeremy Lack was quoted about the environment in which US and Soviet representatives negotiated.

He ... says that the environment can have a positive effect on creativity. For instance, US and Soviet disarmament negotiators famously went on a "walk in the woods" to help them devise new plans.

The woods are not bland. But, if the trees facilitated communication, the walk among them is likely a good example of Attention Restoration Theory (ART). (My past posts on ART: here and here.) One dispute resolution environment is not going to be the best fit for all clients; this is another instance of one size not fitting all.

Before I sign off so you can read the article, let me point out one study that Lady Greenfield mentions, although not specifically. I recognized which research she was describing because I have long thought the study is probably an indication (yes, I know I am extrapolating) that we should be teaching our clients about their brains.

Lady Greenfield says that simply telling children about the brain's plasticity - proving their ability to learn - can drastically improve their educational performance.

I think (and have only my experience to back this up) that telling clients about their brain's (and mind's) ability to resolve conflict, and about the obstacles the brain throws up to resolution, will improve resolution "performance." Here is the study [pdf] to which I believe Lady Greenfield is referring.


Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive with Center co-founder Gary Friedman. She has been a mediator for over two and one-half decades.

She is the author of Triversity Fantasy — Seven Keys To Unlock Prejudice, Creating Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service: A Workbook and many articles on workplace and professional issues for such publications as Lawyer Hiring and Training Report, Colorado Nurse, The Complete Lawyer, National Law Journal, Of Counsel, Law Practice and Denver Business Journal.

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Additional articles by Stephanie West Allen