Back in August, Mediate.com released an article about neuroscience and valuable insights gathered from research that can improve the mediation process. The writer, Lucia Kanter St. Amour, is a member of the Neuroleadership Institute and a long time expert on matters of dispute resolution and negotiation. While reading the article, I was reaffirmed to see that the techniques our firm has developed to handle mediation for our clients are in step with the findings of neuroscientists like Dr. Paul Ekman who is referenced in the article.
Something that stood out to me was a quick note that St. Amour brings up in her conclusion. She addresses attorneys and mediators, warning them to avoid the frustration of expecting clients or opposing parties to retain their rationality. Attorneys are typically taught a representation mindset. The goal is to be as stoic and focused as possible with a strict adherence to reason over emotion. Understandably, it helps to have someone who understands the legal process and knows the tried and tested process to secure a client’s needs. I am not suggesting that this process is wrong, merely incomplete. To achieve what is best for your client is to get them what they want without brewing up a storm. Agitating and fighting the “other side” is quick way to pile up legal fees, prolong closure, and take a heavy toll on the wellbeing of the family.
In my experience, it’s counterproductive to manage a client’s emotions. We’re not counselors and while we want what’s best for our clients, we do not have the time nor the skillset to guide them in that manner. What we can do is listen and facilitate the conversation. This starts with gaining a client’s trust. Do we comprehend their goals in a way that makes them confident moving forward? Then when we’re in mediation, are we open to what the other side is saying and able to translate that to our client in a way that doesn’t feel threatening? We can’t do this if we expect everyone to remain calm and stick to the script. If a client retreats into fear or anger, a mediator needs to adapt and first recognize what the trigger was and then find a way to nullify it. The anger and fear are normal responses to any perceived threat or sense of helplessness. Our goal as mediators is to clear the path and show our clients that there is a way forward.
Catherine S. Eaton