Effective Mediators & Nonverbal Communication
Guest writer Jeff Thompson is presenting at the 2013 ACR Annual Conference
What really makes a mediator effective? Are the skills you use as a mediator the same as others? Do you try to specifically do certain actions while also avoiding others?
The above questions are some of the ones I am exploring while I conduct my doctoral research at Griffith University Law School on nonverbal communication and mediators. The first question, I argue, has already been answered in multiple research studies, I am simply (well not that simple) delving deeper into the issue from the nonverbal communication perspective.
After reviewing the studies, I determined three skills contained were frequently mentioned while many other skills fit within these three. The three are: developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism. For my research, I argue that:
1) Each (rapport, trust, professionalism) is created primarily through nonverbal communication and
2) The mediator’s introduction is a critical moment where each of the three are observable based on the mediator’s actions.
An issue that arises is the complexity of mediation, the existence of various mediation models, and the vast amount of personal styles of the individual mediator makes it burdensome for a research to try and identify specific actions, verbal or nonverbal, used by mediators. Luckily, research in nonverbal communication corresponding with rapport, trust, and professionalism along with research in conflict resolution has provided a great starting block.
The other building blocks of effective mediators in my research are offered through three studies. First, a survey of almost 400 mediators worldwide provided both quantitative and qualitative data giving insight into a variety of topics related to nonverbal communication. Examples include specific actions a mediator does to build rapport with the parties (hint: eye contact is very important); the choice of clothing by a mediator depends greatly on the context of the mediation session; what type of room design does a mediator prefer and if the context matters; nonverbal
communication and the mediator’s introduction is viewed as being very important; and if the gender of the party matters if the mediator is going to shake their hand when greeting them.
Second, if the first study looks at what mediators think, I wanted to next find out what they are being taught. For this, I engaged in ethnographic interviews of mediation trainers and professors to find out how mediators are being taught nonverbal communication, rapport, trust, and professionalism. The information, and admittedly my opinion is very biased, is incredibly interesting where you will find yourself nodding your head (nonverbal communication pun intended!) while at other times the comments offered by the trainers and professors you will find surprising.
Finally, the third and final study completes the triangulation of my research. After collecting data of what mediators say they do and what mediators are taught, now the final stage is to see what they actually do. Study three involves observing mediators to see what they actually do, with specific emphasis on the mediator’s introduction. Observing mediators for multiple cases also allows the opportunity to determine what the mediator does regardless of the context and what actions they do specific to the situation. For example, does the introduction change in time length based on the setting?
Ultimately the purpose of the research is to provide the data to mediators, negotiators, other conflict resolution professionals and academics. it is also an opportunity to review the data, reflect on it and allowing someone to either conduct further research on the topic or discern how the data applies to their practice and become more effective mediators. Time will tell!
Jeff is presenting at this year's ACR conference on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2-3pm
Jeff Thompson is a certified international mediator and New York City Police Department (NYPD) detective. Jeff is currently the recipient of the Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly Graduate Scholarship and is conducting research as a Research Fellow at Columbia University Law School.
His law enforcement role includes being a communication and conflict specialist, interfaith dialogue, developing and implementing community engagement programs, social media engagement and designing training workshops.
Jeff is also currently a PhD candidate researching nonverbal communication and mediation at Griffith University Law School. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Creighton University School of Law. Jeff has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally and has been published and featured with numerous international media organizations including the New York Times, CNN, BBC radio, Al Jazeera, and the Sydney Morning Herald.