When people enter into a negotiation – whether it’s for a new car or a teachers contract – they’re always looking to get the best outcome for their side. But there’s more to consider than just negotiation positions, says Teresa Frisbie, director of Loyola University’s Dispute Resolution Program.
As a professional mediator, Frisbie has seen a lot of tense negotiations. And she says the participants not only bring their points of view to the table, they also bring unconscious and instinctive responses to conflict. “We react to conflict … the same way we would to seeing a seven-foot alligator wriggling its way through the office door,” she wrote last year in “Raising Emotional Intelligence at the Mediation Table” in Dispute Resolution Magazine. “Our hearts race, our blood pressure soars, our pupils dilate, our lungs work more quickly, and our adrenal glands release adrenaline into the bloodstream.”
Those responses were designed to get us moving fast, she says. “A response that is usually distinctly unhelpful in the mediation setting.”
Mediators have developed techniques to minimize the impact of such instinctive, biological responses, she says. One approach is called “self-distancing language.” That might involve telling a personal story of grievance in the second or third person, which is less likely to bring the painful emotions back to the surface. “Scientists have found that the way someone tells his or her story can have a significant impact on what happens in the brain and body,” she said.
Frisbie has also written about the positive role that mindfulness meditation can play in conflict resolution. One benefit, she says, is staying calm when under attack. In a 2016 article for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Frisbie cites a study at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital which found that practice of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) physically changes the amygdala, “the region deep in the primitive part of the brain involved in emotional reactivity and fear.”