Judging Others Even If You Don’t Realize It

Mediation and nonverbal communication are two terms, and those who know me can vouch for it, that I have been using non-stop for the past two years as both are the core focus areas of my PhD research topic at Griffith University Law School.

As I am in the midst of editing one of what seems like the endless chapters of a thesis that will be completed either in this life or the next, I thought why wait to share some of the findings? Rather, why not somewhat randomly share some ‘golden nugget’ quotes?

Below I share, and will continue to do so from time to time, some comments from my key informants.* This part of my research utilizes ethnography as means of exploring nonverbal communication and mediation. In short, I engaged in in-depth interviews with these key informants (mediation trainers and professors) to find how (and if) nonverbal communication is taught to budding mediators.

Keep in mind, my arguments are 1) previous research identifies building rapport, establishing trust, and displaying professionalism as being the traits of effective mediators; and 2) each of the three are accomplished primarily through nonverbal channels.

The snippet below is a response from F5 (the fifth female key informant I interviewed) after being asked about the role of nonverbal communication in mediation:

The key informants teach different types of listening and they stress the importance of it being non-judging. F5 explains:

The first thing I teach that I think addresses nonverbal communication is that I talk about the levels of listening. I talk about empathic listening versus filtered listening. I spend a lot of time on that at the beginning [of the training].

I want [the trainees] to notice how they are sitting there judging- listening with judgment [thinking] ‘does this sound right [or] ‘does this sound wrong.’ I say [to the trainees] you are never going to be able to hide that; you cannot hide that nonverbally, I don’t care how perfect your reframes are, you will never hide you are being judgmental because it will come out in your tone of voice, it’s going to come out in the way you hold your body, it’s going to come out in the inflection of how you re-arrange your words. Even if the reframe is fine on paper, the way you said it came off judgmental, you can’t hide it.

Have you taken time to consider the different types of listening you do during a mediation session? Do you display, nonverbally, and even unknowingly, different gestures, facial expressions, tone, and posture?

I hope this will help you as a mediator or any position you have that relies on effective communication in order to be successful take a moment to reflect on how you listen.

* A key informant is someone part of community that is engaged during quantitative research, including ethnography, because they “gatekeepers” providing valuable insight and knowledge based on their role in their community. I chose mediation trainers and professors as they not only possess this knowledge but these also have an incredible amount of responsibility- they teach mediation to new mediators.

                        author

Jeff Thompson

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… MORE >

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