Trust Me or I’ll Kill You! What do Mediators mean by “Trust?”

Trust Me or I’ll Kill You! What do Mediators mean by “Trust?”

Guest writer Madge Thorsen is presenting with Julie Rea at the 2013 ACR Annual Conference

It is unlikely that you will ever read an article about mediation without seeing the word “trust” in it somewhere. Trust is said to be the key to peaceful conflict resolution and mediators are urged to gain the “trust” of the parties in order to serve them well. “Trust” is gained, apparently, through eye contact, non-verbal body language, demonstrations of competence, keeping one’s word, a host of other possibilities.

But what do we really mean by “trust”? In Gary Noesner’s book Stalling for Time, trust means a hostage negotiator building rapport with a hostage taker specifically with the intent of luring the criminal out into the open so he can be shot. For Antoinette Tuff, it meant putting herself in harm’s way by talking down the Decatur, Georgia school shooter until he gave up. For some mediators, it means shuttling back and forth, keeping secrets and conveying offers they know or suspect are mere posturing.  When we define it on our currency – In God We Trust – it seems to mean relying on a higher spiritual power. Or it may mean “am I a risk-taker?” Maybe we do not “trust” other people, we just calculate whether the gains from dealing with them will outweigh the personal downsides.  So, does the word mean everything…..or nothing?

It pays to look more closely at the concept of trust and what different disciplines can teach us about it. From economics, neuroeconomics, sociology, philosophy, psychology and literature we can learn more  about the numerous concepts that the word “trust” encompasses and how it may or may not play into our work as mediators and alternative dispute resolution practitioners. If trust is to have any content and utility in this field, it pays to think critically about it first – from understanding its layers and nuances, we can learn how better to deploy “trust” as a skill.

Madge Thorsen is a mediator and mediation skills trainer from Minneapolis Minnesota. She along with colleague Julie Rea and surprise guests is presenting at the ACR conference on October 11 in a session called “Trust Me or I’ll Kill You,” 3:30 – 5:00 p.m.

Madge Thorsen is an attorney who practices largely in alternative dispute resolution. She is a qualified Rule 114 neutral; a mediator and facilitator for the Minnesota Department of Education Special Education Mediation Services; an arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association; and a private mediator and teacher of mediation and facilitation skills for various entities, including William Mitchell College of Law, Hamline University Dispute Resolution Center, Normandale Community College and other private venues. She recently presented “Ten Tips from the Mediator’s Toolkit” for arts managers at the Kennedy Center for the Arts national conference on Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disabilities.


Julie Rea is the Legal Services Manager for Great Clips, Inc., overseeing compliance for 3,400 salon locations across North America, safety and security programs as well as crisis planning and management. She is a fourth year part-time student at William Mitchell College of Law, graduating in May of 2014, and has completed coursework to become a Minnesota Rule 114 Qualified Neutral. She is the author of our special presentation. 


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