Recognizing & Facilitating Emotions
Moderated by Anita Vestal
Emotional content usually shows up with parties in a dispute resolution process. We know that emotions contain a great deal of information and we know that satisfying emotional issues is important for lasting resolution. As ADR professionals, what do we do with emotional expressions? When the ADR process is online, should one handle emotions differently than in a face to face session? Do we seek out the emotional content and if so, how?
Online mediation presents challenges in reading emotions, particularly when there is no video conferencing. In the Discussion Forum, we reflect on questions about our comfort level, skill, training and experience handling emotions during online mediation. Are you comfortable facilitating the feelings of the parties in mediation? Do you feel you have the training and skills to allow the parties to express their emotions? Is it worthwhile to allow expression of feelings or does it waste time?
To get the discussion started, let’s take a look at the facial expressions chart and try to identify what emotion is being expressed in each photo. Next let’s try to give some examples of ways to identify how one is feeling when we are not able to see the face and body, such as an audio conference without video or simply an email or discussion post.
Dr. Anita Vestal has been practicing and teaching conflict resolution for 15 years, teaching ADR courses at Nova Southeastern University, Sullivan University, and Eastern Mennonite University. As a researcher, she studied the role of emotions in resolving conflicts of young children and she currently trains teachers on emotional literacy and conflict resolution in addition to a mediation practice. Her recent books on the importance of emotional intelligence for both children and adults, include:
Vestal, A (2012). Making Friends with the F Word: Forgiveness. http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/152327 ISBN 9781476356273 and
Vestal, A. (2009). Conflict Resolution in Preschool: A Model for Teachers and Children. Koln, Germany: LAP-Lambert Academic Publishing. ISBN 978-3-8383-1017-6
I was extremely surprised how the picture, made me take this idea as more of a serious one. Viewing the pictures made me think a few things about recognizing and facilitating emotions within an online mediation. 1) Even if there were a mechanism like Skype or Facetime to facilitate mediation online--would it be just as easy to read facial expressions and body language as it would be in person? I struggle with this question as mentally putting myself in that situation is daunting. I think it would be easier for clients (if they were possible) to fake their emotion, and as there is a certain barrier between the parties--it would be easier for mudslinging to occur. 2) If there wasn't a way to have a visual of the opposing party or clients, and one just had audio, how could the emotions be read? It is easy to mask one's voice--especially when they are unfamiliar. How would a mediator be able to adequately perform while remaining empathetic, or not reading into things too much?
Anita, you can visit American-Guy Culture - we serve beer and chili - but you can never ever really become a part of it. Here's raising a pint to cross-gender/cultural understanding!
Anita Vestal said:
Appreciate the honesty, sincerity and the self-reflection. Absolutely in agreement that awareness is the first step to changing and you can certainly be recognized for your self awareness. The "American Guy" as you say is like a culture in its own right. I have read many wonderful books and attended many wonderful seminars on this issue that you are wrestling with. Your American Guy-ness is unique and different from my American Gal-ness, so I can never truly know what it is like to be in your culture.
A big eye opener for me was a textbook we used for a course I taught on Managing Conflict in a Diverse Workplace ten years ago. The author believes that "There may be no greater, more significant void in the knowledge of educated adults than cross-cultural understanding." This is what you have described. How can I really know your culture of American Guy and how can you know anyone else outside of this culture? Use of emotions and interpretation of those emotions are in the same vein, I believe. Anyway, here is the book... the discussion on the idea of high context versus high content cultures has implications for emotional recognition and facilitation.
Scarborough, J. (1998). The Origins of Cultural Differences and their Impact on Management. Wesport, CT: Quorum Books
Thanks for your comments Layth. It is true that the mediator can get a better idea of how the parties might be feeling in a video conference rather than a text-only dialog. Keep in mind too that using email asynchronously gives the mediator and the parties more time to digest and react to what is being said.
Layth Al-Turk said:
Emotions play a large role in any alternate dispute resolution setting. I believe in order to properly conduct a dispute resolution, the neutral third party needs to be able to gauge the emotions of all parties and be able to continue the discussions in a positive manner. When it comes to disputes resolved online, I think it is possible for the third party to have a much more difficult time not only reading the emotions of the parties involved, but also in deciding what directions to have the discussions flow. If there is no video conferencing, this will almost certainly become extremely difficult because the mediator/arbitrator will need to make these judgments based solely on reading what has been typed or said by the parties involved. Being in the same room as the parties involved makes it much easier to read the emotion and direction of the individuals.
American Guy Culture at its best!
Bill Warters said:
I refer to eliciting emotions as my willingness to be in the weeds with my parties. Although this can be a difficult place for some mediators it is the place that I shine. I do not believe that having the meeting online needs to take away from the ability of the parties to connect emotionally with each other or the mediator. For some people it could be easier to express their emotions because the person is NOT sitting in the same room.
I can also see how the online interactions could harm the forward movement of the parties conversation because if there is a misunderstanding about a perceived inflection in some one's voice the parties could be derailed on a subject that was not an intentional comment because of the misinterpretation of the other party.
Just my thoughts,
Anita Vestal said:
I love that you have reframed this from "challenging" to "creating an opportunity for intimacy". You bring up a few points that I have found to be true for online teaching/learning as well ... people disclose more intimate details online than in a face to face environment.
When a mediator is comfortable with eliciting emotions, the potential benefits could be a treasure, such as the benefit of using online text to convey delicate, emotional matters as you suggest. Who has not written a love letter that was more eloquent that any words spoken to that loved one? Yes, encouraging expression of emotions through text can be an opening, an opportunity to create deeper understanding between the parties without the confrontation of a verbal response. Thank you for reminding us of the opportunity and the benefit of the written word to express emotions more freely than verbal communication.
Jelle van Veenen said:
Dear Anita and cyberweek attendants,
There is no doubt that the expression of emotions in an online, text-based environment is different than in a face-to-face situation. This poses challenges, for sure. But i would like you to think about the benefits as well. After all, haven't people been sharing their deepest emotions in text-based form for centuries, in novels and love letters?
What are the benefits of using text-based communication for dispute resolution processes? Why is it that people can share their deepest secrets on online discussion forums? Is it true that divorcees can discuss delicate and emotional matters better when they do not have to face each other?
Jelle van Veenen
Much of what is being discussed is via txt or email, (written). Who has experience with Skype, or video coaching and in your experience is it more difficult to read people via on line than face to face?