Anchoring is the association of a word, phrase or gesture with a particular concept, state of being or experience in a way that allows the concept, state of being, or experience to be restimulated and recreated by the repeated offering of the word, phrase or gesture.
The mediator may want to develop gestures and key lines to help in facilitating parties' discussions. For example, the use of hand signals to preempt interruptions, the use of a time-out signal, or developing a gesture that means "You decide, I don't decide anything" are ways for the mediator to elegantly and effectively communicate important concepts to the parties without even saying a word.
Establishing and Anchoring Resource States
You can safely assume that parties will come to mediation at their worst. People are not generally at their best when they are in conflict. One of your challenges as mediator is to assist participants to be in a more empowered state. One way to do this is to assist participants into resource states. A resource state may be defined as "A state of being in which the mediation participant is comfortable, positively disposed, open, flexible and creative."
Easier said than done, you say? Here are some suggestions:
Use your perceptual skills to detect when a participant is in the type of resourceful state that you would like to work with in mediation. A participant may be in such a state when talking about his or her work (or in the exact opposite state), about a vacation, or about some sporting activity. Notice that the repetition of the key words that led into that discussion will almost certainly recreate that state of being.
You can also access such a resource state by asking a person questions that require them to internally experience things that they enjoy or think fondly of. For example, even to a divorcing couple, you can inquire as to "how they met and fell in love" (talk about creating dissonance). To a committed gardener, you might ask "What do you enjoy most about gardening?" Notice how people respond to questioning about what they like to do with their free time.
On my mediation intake questionnaire, I literally ask people "what they like to do with their free time" (sandwiched between where do they work and what their goals are for the mediation) and I find participant responses to this question to be some of the most valuable information I am able to obtain in terms of assisting parties to "elevate," to be at their best in mediation. I will typically mark off that most special area of their life with a key word and gesture, being aware that I can restimulate that state of being simply by repeating the word or gesture.
In divorce mediation (or just about any mediation) an effective way to create a resource state is to ask participants if they have pictures of their child(ren). Participants, no matter their level of present conflict, are almost always positively disposed toward their children. The children's names become anchors restimulating the parents' pride.
I also have a picture of my son, Jeremy, with his face planted squarely in the middle of his first birthday cake (no one told him to use a fork). It is a picture that for whatever set of reasons seems to shift parties' states-of-being and I will commonly refer to the image in mediation.
To anchor a participant's state-of-being, you associate the desirable resource state with a gesture, word, or phrase, making sure that you can accurately repeat the anchor. The repeated stimulus restimulates the prior experience when the anchor was set and has the ability to shift the person back to that desired state of being.