A new insight to mediation by being the antagonist or common enemy. Will this work in community mediation?
When we imagine the typical mediator, we tend to think of a person who is nice and shows empathy to those in conflict. Indeed, manuals and books on mediation commonly indicate that a mediator should listen attentively to all participants and express empathy with their viewpoints, taking care not to appear to favor some people’s ideas over those of others. Gaining trust by establishing rapport and understanding between the mediator and negotiators is a commonly espoused best practice for facilitating resolution of a dispute.
In a series of studies, we created situations in which negotiators were part of a heated dispute and gave them the opportunity to meet with a mediator. In one study, for instance, participants faced a “nice” mediator — one who spoke in a friendly tone and asked questions politely. Other participants faced a mediator who was more abrasive, spoke gruffly, and used sarcasm. Still other participants faced a mediator with a more emotionally neutral style. Across different types of conflicts, we consistently found that negotiators were more willing and able to reach an agreement with their counterpart in the presence of an antagonistic mediator than in the presence of a nice or neutral mediator.
Why? Because the adversaries united against the common enemy: the hostile mediator.
More generally, when two people share a mutual dislike of another person, research has found, those two people will likely forge a closer bond. For instance, Jennifer Boson of the University of South Florida discovered that when people have a third person or thing that they can demean jointly (whether a classmate, a celebrity, or even a song), the bond between them increases.
All this research calls into question the value of relying on an empathetic, neutral mediator who can defuse tensions in trying to resolve disputes. By becoming the common enemy, a hostile mediator might be more effective in getting parties to find common ground.
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