From family feuds to corporate conflicts, when people find themselves in difficult disputes, they often turn to mediation. Manuals on effective mediation suggests that a mediator should listen attentively to each person involved and express empathy with their viewpoints, no matter how different from one another they are. Mediators are advised to avoid appearing to favor the ideas of one side, and to make each person involved feel at ease and confident that they are being understood. Establishing this rapport is a commonly espoused “best practice” for gaining trust and facilitating conflict resolution. Indeed, surveys of professional mediators confirm that they commonly adopt these recommended tactics.
Surprisingly, however, new research that my colleagues and I conducted suggests that, to effectively help people resolve their conflicts, mediators should adopt a hostile attitude rather than a calming one. A hostile mediator, we find, induces better results than a nice one.
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