Building Chemistry in Mediation: Tips for Parties to a Case

In the world of mediation, building rapport is key. Successful outcomes often hinge on establishing trust and fostering a sense of ease from the outset.

For mediators, that can be one of the most crucial aspects of our role.

Of course, mediators aren’t the only ones with the ability to foster a sense of connection. If you’re taking part in a mediated dispute, you have more power than you may realize.

By understanding a bit about brain chemistry, you can take steps to build trust and goodwill with the other side, without compromising your own interests.

How does neurochemistry influence mediation

The Chemistry of Compromise

Several neurochemicals play a role in influencing the effectiveness of mediation. These “mood messengers” can impact a participants’ emotions, focus, and openness to communication.

  • Dopamine: Often associated with reward and motivation, dopamine levels can be influenced by the mediator’s ability to create a sense of progress and potential solutions. When participants feel hopeful about reaching a positive outcome, dopamine can promote engagement and a more collaborative spirit.
  • Oxytocin: Known as the “bonding hormone,” oxytocin is released during positive social interactions and feelings of trust. By fostering a respectful and empathetic environment, the mediator can encourage oxytocin release, leading to better communication and a willingness to compromise.
  • Serotonin: Among other things, serotonin induces feelings of collegiality and reduces anxiety. Collegiality is helpful in mediation, creating a sense that the mediator “sees” their side of the dispute. Meanwhile, reducing anxiety supports clearer thinking and evaluation in the decision-making process.

From Disputant to Diplomat

So how can you, as a party to mediation, help generate this beneficial chemistry?

Consider these techniques:

  1. Try a brief relaxation exercise before you begin. While sitting in your car or the waiting area, take a few minutes to do some deep breathing. Studies show that deep breathing can significantly reduce stress hormones and activate parts of the brain associated with emotional regulation and clear thinking, helping you arrive in a calm, centered headspace.
  1. Use open, relaxed body language. Uncross your arms, sit up, and make good eye contact. Maintaining an open, relaxed demeanor can activate a similar mirroring effect in the other party.
Use open, relaxed body language in a mediation

  1. Listen and reflect the other side’s viewpoint, even if you disagree. Show you’re hearing them by paraphrasing and asking clarifying questions. Acknowledging their viewpoint builds empathy and trust, making them more open to understanding yours. People tend to be more open to someone who seems to “get” them.
  1. Use positive, optimistic language. Choose words that convey hope and possibility, rather than dwelling on past grievances. Positive language activates motivational centers in the brain, encouraging both sides to work towards solutions. Reframe challenges as opportunities.
  1. Keep your messages concise. There’s a time and place for lengthy speeches, but mediation is not it. Limit your messages to 20-30 seconds at a time, as too much information creates cognitive strain. An overloaded mind will tune out and retain only what it deems important. On the other hand, people at “cognitive ease” are more likely to engage in thoughtful, balanced judgments.
  1. Take breaks when needed to manage stress and emotions. High cortisol (the “stress hormone”) can provoke aggression and cloud judgment. If things get heated, request a time out to clear your head, get some air, and have a quick snack.

These suggestions don’t mean sacrificing your bottom line. You’ll still need to assert your interests and say no to unfavorable terms. The key is balancing firmness with empathy. 

Look for small ways to build rapport and trust throughout the process. The neurochemistry you help create could be the key to unlocking a resolution.

Success in mediation is rarely a zero-sum game. With the right approach, both sides can come out feeling good about the outcome. If you’re engaged in a dispute and need help, book a consultation with a skilled mediator now.

Jeffrey R. Windsor, Esq

Jeffrey R. Windsor, Esq

Civil Litigation Attorney and Mediator

Jeffrey R. Windsor, Esq. is a civil litigation attorney and mediator. He established Windsor PLC in 2012 and has more than two decades of experience representing clients in complex legal matters.

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