No More Mr Nice Guy
Conventional wisdom suggests that the mediator’s role is to play the nice guy - the person who listens, understands and is unwaveringly neutral in their opinion.
However, new research reported in This Week in Mediation, suggests that more aggressive mediation techniques may be more effective.
Researchers at Harvard and Columbia Business Schools conducted a number of experiments to test the hypothesis that a hostile mediator can increase the likelihood of successful resolution of conflict.
The results suggested a definite link between a mediator’s hostility and a negotiator's willingness to reach agreement with the other side.
The researchers concluded that the link was a result of the mediator being perceived as a common enemy, thus increasing the connection and empathy between the disputing parties. This was supported by the diminished effect when the mediator was being more hostile to one party than the other.
Heavy Metal Mediation
Is this research to be believed?
Should we abandon the facilitative mediation model and opt instead for an aggressive, cage-rattling approach? What would this approach look like?
Some mediators have already evolved an antagonistic mediation technique as a result of their practical experience.
In an interview with Mediator Academy, Lee Jay Berman discussed his style of ‘Heavy Metal Mediation’. He argues that, whilst the facilitative approach is fantastic in theory, mediators shouldn’t limit the tools and techniques available to them. Sometimes a little cage rattling is exactly what the parties need.
Having a Pop At the Mediator
Mike Talbot, who specializes in workplace mediation, has also instinctively recognized the benefits of this antagonistic approach.
In his words: 'there sometimes needs to be a point where the clients have a pop at the mediator.’ Interestingly, he offers an alternative explanation for the benefits of this approach.
In his view, it’s not just because the parties are uniting against a common enemy. It’s about finding an outlet for the party’s emotions and anger. It’s about having a moment of catharsis - letting it all out so they can return to thinking rationally. Listen to Mike talk about his approach here:
Reflect on Your Mediation Style
Whatever the reason, it’s always useful to reflect on your mediation style and to experiment with new mediation techniques to ensure you are providing the best service to your clients.
Maybe next time you find your approach isn’t working - try being a little less nice and a bit more antagonistic. You might be surprised by the results.
You can read the full research paper on antagonistic mediation by Ting Zhang, Francesca Gino and Michael I Norton, here.
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