blackswan

3 Ways Crisis Negotiation Skills Can Help Mediators Deal With Parties (Part 3)

by Therese Tiffany Ang

This blog post is the final of a three-part series focused on how crisis negotiation skills can be applied in the practice of mediation. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, the links to Parts 1 and 2 are listed below:

In this entry, I would like to explore the influence techniques crisis negotiators use to disarm and redirect their parties in a relationship affirming way. By applying these techniques in mediation, mediators can help to transform conflict into collaboration, and options that previously seemed impossible can mutually be explored.

I end off the series by highlighting the importance of finding the “Black Swan” in any situation one faces. What are “Black Swans”? Don’t worry, this is something you will find out below.

 

Influence Techniques

The shift from being emotional or difficult to being collaborative must come from within the party himself. In trying to facilitate such a transition, influence techniques present a good indirect way of inducing change.

(1) Reinforcing movement towards resolution

The first influence technique is that of reinforcing any movement in the direction of a successful agreement – for example, a party’s cooperative behavior or a resolution of any ambivalence or opposition to an option. This subtly nudges parties to display more collaborative qualities.

There are a few ways in which one can reinforce movements towards resolution:

(a) Cheerleading/Comments of appreciation:

One way is to give clear comments of appreciation to parties for doing specific actions. For instance, in crisis negotiations, negotiators thank parties for lowering their weapons. Applying this to mediation, a mediator can thank a party for agreeing to explore an option suggested by the other side. As behaviour that is acknowledged tends to increase, doing so makes it more likely that the party thanked will start exhibiting more cooperative behaviour.

(b) Nominalising actions into qualities:

Nominalising the actions of a party into permanent qualities entails a strategic manipulation of language where the mediator changes the verb describing the action into an adjective describing an inherent character trait within the party himself.

For example, where an emotional party has calmed down significantly during the course of the mediation, the mediator can say, “I appreciate how thoughtful and deliberative a person you are. You are a calm person who really thinks things through.” This suggests that the rational behaviour is a characteristic of the person that can be expected throughout the mediation.

(2) Calibrated questions

Interest-based problem solving involves coaxing, not overcoming; collaboration, not defeating. Mutual agreements are more likely to be reached if parties are involved in the problem-solving process and come up with the solutions themselves.

In crisis negotiations, negotiators achieve this by using calibrated questions to involve their parties: “How can I help to make this better for us?”, or “How am I supposed to do that?”. In adapting such questions to the mediation context where the focus is on how the parties can help each other meet each other’s interests, one possible question mediators can ask could be: “What can [Party B] do to help you achieve [Party A’s interest]?”.

Through asking these questions, the mediator implicitly asks the party for help, triggering goodwill and reducing defensiveness. More importantly, this gives that party an illusion of control, prompting him to use his mental and emotional resources to think about the possible challenges and obstacles his counterparty might be facing and coming up with possible options that might overcome them. In this sense, the mediator helps to subconsciously educate the party on what the problem between he and his counterparty might be, without creating more conflict.

 

Finding the “Black Swan”

Before, crisis negotiators assumed that hostage-takers would not kill hostages on deadlines because they were needed alive as bargaining chips, until William Griffin became the first actor in US history to prove this wrong.1 Today, many believe that even the most idealistic actors have underlying interests that can be negotiated with, but ISIS has encouraged its terrorists to take hostages not for the sake of negotiating any demands, but for the sole purpose of killing them.2

Every negotiation and mediation is a new experience, with new realities. We must let what we know guide us, but not blind us to other possible outcomes. In every dispute, there are likely to be pieces of information that, if discovered, would change everything. Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, refers to these pieces of information as “Black Swans”. For instance, in Griffin’s case, Griffin had no orthodox demands typical of most hostage-takers, and his note to the police included a line saying, “… after the police take my life …”.3 Because these facts were not uncovered, the negotiators failed to see this novel situation for what it was: that for the first time, they were facing a hostage-taker who did not need his hostages alive to negotiate for things like money or transport. They were facing a hostage-taker who wanted to be killed.

“Black Swans” certainly also exist in mediation. To uncover them, mediators must always challenge their assumptions, put them out on the table, and listen to the response of the party in question. For example, when a party refuses to agree to a solution that appears to be in his interests, one may assume that he is merely being irrational or difficult to please. But it may actually be that that party is simply ill-informed, constrained by promises already made, or has hidden interests (emotional, substantive or otherwise) that have not been addressed. A mediator must not let his assumptions shut him off to these possibilities. Rather, one must always strive to uncover the “Black Swans” hidden from plain sight in order to ensure effective facilitation of the problem-solving process.

 

Conclusion

Most mediations will likely never be conducted in life-threatening crisis situations. But by incorporating the skills explored in this series into one’s skillset, mediators can become better at connecting with and managing the emotions of parties in a way that positively influences them into behaving more collaboratively.

I hope that this series has provided a useful introduction for the exploration of crisis negotiation skills and that readers might take the time to practice the skills learnt. Have fun, and good luck!

 


Therese is a graduate student from the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law. During her time as an undergraduate, she studied both Mediation and Negotiation as elective modules and trained youth in peer mediation at the Peacemakers Conference.

To make sure you don’t miss out on regular updates from the Peacemakers Blog, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

Peacemakers offers the services of internationally accredited mediators with extensive experience in resolving local and international conflicts. If you are involved in a dispute, let us know your requirements via email at mediate@peacemakers.sg, and we will recommend you the mediators that best meet your needs.


 

3 Ways Crisis Negotiation Skills Can Help Mediators Deal With Parties (Part 2) - FB

3 Ways Crisis Negotiation Skills Can Help Mediators Deal With Parties (Part 2)

by Therese Tiffany Ang

This blog post is the second of a three-part series focused on how crisis negotiation skills can be applied in the practice of mediation. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, Part 1 can be found here:

 

In this entry, I would like to explore two more micro-skills of active listening – emotional labelling and summarising.

 

(6) Emotional labelling

It is hard to separate people from the problem when their emotions are the problem. This is why, instead of trying to remove emotions from the picture, crisis negotiators strive to identify with and understand the feelings of their parties. In doing so, the aim is to increase their influence over those parties and guide them towards more collaborative problem-solving behaviour.

One active listening micro-skill that crisis negotiators rely on in this aspect is that of emotional labelling. This skill is an additive empathetic response that validates someone’s emotions by identifying and acknowledging those feelings, rather than judging or minimising them.

There are two steps to emotional labelling –

(a) Detecting feelings: A lot of information can be gleaned from a person’s words, tone and body language. Crisis negotiators detect a party’s feelings by paying close attention to any changes these three areas undergo when that party responds to external events. For instance, if a party’s voice goes flat when a colleague is mentioned, there could be some animosity between those two.

(b) Labelling: Labels generally start with “it seems/sounds like …” instead of “I’m hearing that …”. The latter puts people’s guards up as it suggests that the asker is more interested in himself and is superimposing his impressions on them. It also makes the asker take personal responsibility for the words used and any offence they might cause. Conversely, when phrased as a neutral statement of understanding, an emotional label encourages a party to be responsive and elaborate on his feelings. Even if he disagrees with the label, the asker can distance himself from it by saying, “I didn’t say that was what it was, I just said it seemed like that”.

By giving emotions a name, the mediator shows that he empathises with how the party feels. This operates as a shortcut to intimacy – it establishes an emotional connection between the mediator and the party without the former having to agree with the validity of those feelings. Additionally, if the party’s negative emotions are running high, exposing those feelings to “broad daylight” defuses them as it makes them less frightening. When people engage in the task of labelling their emotions, the raw intensity of those emotions is lessened, and this helps to bring back a degree of calmness and rationality into the mediation.

If used well, emotional labelling enables a mediator to influence the party to become more collaborative and trusting. Labelling a negative feeling and replacing it with polite, solution-based thoughts induces the party to appreciate that the mediator understands what he is feeling and is making efforts to empathise with him. Indeed, such displays of tactical empathy have helped veteran police talk angry, violent people out of fights or get them to put down their weapons. By empathising with the parties involved, these police know that they can use those negative emotions as a platform to influence people to become more cooperative.

 

(7) Summarising

Summarising is a combination of paraphrasing and labelling – it is rearticulating the meaning of what was said and the emotions underlying those meanings. Through this, the party will know that he has truly been heard and understood by the negotiator, fortifying the rapport and trust that has been built throughout the entire process

The ultimate goal of using all the micro-skills discussed above and in Part 1 is to get the party to say, “That’s right”. In crisis negotiations, this has been observed to mark a crucial point in the negotiation where the party feels heard and acknowledged, showing that a connection has been established between him and the negotiator. This is when the negotiator gains the party’s “permission” to persuade him, opening the door to previously impossible solutions. The more a person feels understood and is positively affirmed in that understanding, the more his urge for collaborative behaviour takes hold. This is because sometimes, underneath all of the substantive demands and positions, people actually just want their feelings to be understood.

Jeffrey Schilling’s case is an illustrative example. Schilling was a 24-year old American who had been taken hostage after travelling near the base of the Abu Sayyaf in 2000. Sabaya, the rebel leader, demanded US$10 million in war damages for the oppression Muslim Filipinos had went through. No matter how negotiators tried to reason that Schilling had nothing to do with the war damages, Sabaya refused to listen. Then the negotiators changed their approach – they empathised with the group’s predicament, used mirroring, encouraging, and labelling to soften Sabaya up and begin shifting his perspective and finally, summarised his story and emotions. Sabaya was silent, and then he spoke, “that’s right.” From then on, the war damages demand disappeared, and Schilling ultimately escaped from the camp and was rescued by Philippine commandoes. 1

 

This concludes Part 2 of the series, and I hope that what we have explored thus far will prove helpful in helping you build rapport and trust with parties. In Part 3, I will be concluding the series by looking at some influence techniques crisis negotiators have used to help them disarm and redirect parties in a relationship-affirming way such that conflict is transformed into collaboration.

To make sure you don’t miss out on regular updates from the Peacemakers Blog, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

 


Therese is a graduate student from the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law. During her time as an undergraduate, she studied both Mediation and Negotiation as elective modules and trained youth in peer mediation at the Peacemakers Conference.

Peacemakers offers the services of internationally accredited mediators with extensive experience in resolving local and international conflicts. If you are involved in a dispute, let us know your requirements via email at mediate@peacemakers.sg, and we will recommend you the mediators that best meet your needs.

 


 

3 Ways Crisis Negotiation Skills Can Help Mediators Deal With Parties (Part 1) - FB

3 Ways Crisis Negotiation Skills Can Help Mediators Deal With Parties (Part 1)

by Therese Tiffany Ang

A meeting over the direction of a startup is going badly. A team member refuses to buy into the vision that the management has crafted, and it seems that the dispute will not be resolved. Just then, the CEO steps in. In a shift that seems almost magical, the member comes around and fully supports the new vision. I ask the CEO what he did, and he replies, “It’s something I read about in a book by an FBI hostage negotiator.” 1

Many of us have struggled to deal with difficult or emotional parties when trying to resolve disputes. When I read the above excerpt for the first time, it struck me that there was something that could be learnt from how crisis negotiators deal with their parties in high-stress situations. Crisis negotiations typically involve situations where parties are driven by heightened negative emotions (like anger and fear) at the detriment of rational thinking. Rather than aiming to separate people from their emotions, crisis negotiators place an emphasis on using skills that not only elicit the verbalisation of interests, but that manage and mould parties’ emotions in order to guide them towards collaborative problem-solving behaviour. Using this approach, many peaceful resolutions have been reached with hostage-takers, barricaded subjects and with those involved in suicide attempts.

This series of blog posts aims to see how crisis negotiation skills can be applied in the practice of mediation, and more specifically, how such skills can be applied to help mediators better deal with emotional or difficult parties in mediation.

As in the traditional interest-based approach, crisis negotiators typically begin by identifying a party’s interests by building rapport and trust. This first entry focuses on one commonly used technique – active listening.

 

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is listening and responding to a person’s feelings in a manner that shows genuine concern and empathy. In mediation, this skill is helpful in two ways:

(1) Informative: The mediator can collect vital information about the party’s interests and strategies.

(2) Affective: The mediator’s demonstration of empathy helps to defuse any negative emotions the party might have. It also builds rapport and trust so that the mediator can subsequently influence a collaborative behavioural change in that party.

 

Micro-skills Used in Active Listening

In order to optimally benefit from the informative and affective effects of active listening, negotiators use a large variety of micro-skills. We will explore five of them in this entry.

 

(1) Open-ended questions/statements

Open-ended questions and statements can be used to clarify information and to help mediators demonstrate to the parties that attention is being paid to them and their feelings.

A good open-ended statement is non-judgmental and shows interest in the party’s story. Questions like, “Sounds like you had a rough time. Can you tell me your side of the story?” are more likely to build rapport between the mediator and the party so that the former can gain more information about the latter’s interests and concerns, which are crucial for facilitating collaborative problem-solving. In contrast, factual questions like, “Did you really supply a defective good?”, typically diminish rapport significantly and tend to only result in unhelpful “yes/no” answers.

 

(2) Effective pauses

Silence can be extremely helpful if used strategically. For instance, if used after an open-ended question, an effective pause allows the party to collect his thoughts and encourage sharing. As crisis negotiators have found, this is particularly important when parties are overwhelmed with emotions. This is because people in such circumstances tend to have more to say, but need a longer time to process their thoughts.

Effective pauses can also be used after an emotional outburst to defuse heightened feelings of anger, hurt and frustration. When utilised strategically, such pauses can sometimes be more helpful than direct intervention because they give parties the space to ventilate their emotions. Eventually, like a swamp being cleared out, even the most emotional people can be calmed down.

 

(3) Minimal encouragers

Brief, well-timed encouragers like “and” and “yes” indicate that the mediator is paying full attention to the party and wants to know more. They help create room for explanation without forcing parties to close-up to defend their position.

 

(4) Mirroring

Mirroring is a sign that people are in sync and developing the kind of rapport that leads to trust. Crisis negotiators focus on mirroring the last few words said by party. This has proven to be effective in facilitating bonding and in getting parties to keep sharing information, because it triggers their instinct to sustain the process of connecting by elaborating on what they just said.

 

(5) Paraphrasing

While mirroring is effective, using it too often may give a party the impression that the mediator is merely parroting his concerns. To prevent this, another technique that mediators can use is paraphrasing, whereby the mediator uses his own words to repeat what the party said.

Paraphrasing goes one step further from showing that one is listening – it demonstrates that an active effort is being made to understand and connect.

 

This brings us to the end of Part 1 of the series. I trust that it has given you some food for thought. In Part 2, I will further look at two other essential micro-skills of active listening – emotional labelling and summarising.

To make sure you don’t miss out on regular updates from the Peacemakers Blog, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

 


Therese is a graduate student from the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law. During her time as an undergraduate, she studied both Mediation and Negotiation as elective modules and trained youth in peer mediation at the Peacemakers Conference.

Peacemakers offers the services of internationally accredited mediators with extensive experience in resolving local and international conflicts. If you are involved in a dispute, let us know your requirements via email at mediate@peacemakers.sg, and we will recommend you the mediators that best meet your needs.

 


 

Street Fighter - FB

What Street Fighting Can Teach Mediators

On 17 April 2018, Marcus Lim published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “What Street Fighting can Teach Mediators”. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


Today I want to talk about why mediators should care about EVO Moment #37.

For those of you new to the eSports (“electronic sports”) scene, there is an annual tournament, the Evolution Championship Series (“EVO”), that focuses exclusively on fighting games. Such games typically have players battle each other with unique characters, with the first player able to deplete the opposing character’s health bar being declared the winner for that round. Inspired you might say, by humanity’s historical fascination with arena entertainment.

EVO Moment #37 is the name of a video clip that refers very specifically to one such fight between two legends in the field of Street Fighter, Daigo Umehara (Japan) and Justin Wong (USA), that took place during the semi-finals of EVO 2004, almost 14 years ago.

Deviating slightly from the usual trend of just reading a blot post, I’d like to invite you, the reader, to take just about 1 minute of your time to watch the clip in question. I would advise you to watch with your volume tuned up to not more than 50%, since there is a deafening roar from the crowd towards the end.

But before you do – here’s some quick context for readers who have no interaction whatsoever with fighting games.

This is a screenshot of the first few seconds. There is a picture-in-picture of the actual players and venue, although you can ignore that for the most part of the clip.

There are a couple of important elements on-screen that newcomers should take note of:

  • First, keep in mind that Daigo plays Ken, the character on the left of the screen while Justin plays Chun-Li, on the right.
  • There are two small “V”s under each of the health bars, indicating that each player has won 1 round already for this match, which is set as a best-of-3. Thus, whoever wins this round, will take the match.
  • On either side of the huge number “47” (the countdown timer) are two long bars that stretch to the end of the screen. These are each character’s health bars. The first character to have his or her health bar deplete completely loses the round.
  • You will see that Chun-Li has a significantly longer yellow portion of her bar than Ken’s, which means she has almost close to 100% of her health remaining, while Ken is close to being knocked-out.
  • Basically Daigo (Ken) is in a terribly disadvantageous position. All Justin (Chun-Li) needs to do, is land a few more hits and even if Daigo tries to ‘block’ all of them, he will still take some damage, likely knocking him out.

Now off you go, here’s the link to the YouTube video of the clip. I’ll wait.

Done? Awesome wasn’t it? Oh, you’re not sure what happened? Didn’t we establish Daigo was likely to lose, how did he avoid getting hit for so long?

You see, in this version of Street Fighter, there is a special game mechanic called ‘parry’, that allows any character to negate all damage from an incoming attack, only if the defending player hits either the ‘forward’ (for high and middle attacks) or ‘down’ (for low attacks) command input on their joystick at the exact moment of impact.

That’s right – not only are there two types of parry commands, you have to time it just right as well with no margin for error. In addition, the flurry of moves that you saw Justin (Chun-Li) pull off at the end is known as a “Super Art”, a long string of multiple attacks with varying height that is executed in an instance. Failing to block or parry the first attack means you will automatically be hit by the remainder of the 10+ attacks in the Super Art.

With this new knowledge in-hand, you might want to take another look at the clip – this time, with an even deeper appreciation for why the crowd went wild the way it did, watching live a first-hand display of amazing split-second reaction and timing.

Whew – that was a lot of work just for a 14-year old clip. Hopefully you found it entertaining and insightful (if you never knew about the intricacies of fighting games before) but hang on, how is this relevant to mediation again?

3 Moves made by Masterful Mediators & Street Fighters

With Ready Player One hitting the screens recently, I was hit by a huge wave of nostalgia and then I came across EVO Moment #37, a clip that I had watched umpteenth times in the past.

As I read more about the iconic moment, I realised that what looked like a display of impromptu reaction was actually just the natural conclusion of hours upon hours of preparation work.

You see, Daigo knew that there was a strong chance going into the tournament in 2004 that he would have to fight at least one or more players using Chun-Li. He also knew that his character, Ken, would be at a disadvantage trading blows with Chun-Li, whose attacks were faster and had a longer reach. So Daigo invested hours into his preparation to ensure that he would be able to parry Chun-Li’s Super Art, should he find himself needing to do so.

This then, is the first move – preparation.

Whenever I observe my mentor and friend, Professor Joel Lee, teach or train mediation at the National University of Singapore, or in his capacity as an Affiliate Partner with CMPartners, I will always remember his emphasis on preparation. Good preparation is about knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses; where likely points of conflict will arise and how we plan ahead what moves we will make to deal with them.

The second move is framing.

It would not do Daigo much good being able to parry Chun-Li’s Super Art, if she never used it in a position that would win him the round. Remember I mentioned before that Daigo and Justin had already won one round each? It is actually worthwhile going back to watch those two rounds in detail, or read about it here. Daigo was only able to pull off his magnificent counter-attack because he had already primed Justin over the two earlier rounds into specific reactions. In this case, Daigo wanted to set a strong frame that whenever Justin thought he was in a stronger position, Justin should take the initiative. This is not strictly speaking the most sensible move for Justin since his health advantage allows him to wait out the timer and win on a timeout.

Likewise, as mediators, a lot of our best moves are made well in advance, when we frame issues and concerns well. As Joel likes to say, an ounce of framing is worth a pound of re-framing (I think that’s right, I grew up using the metric system but using grams and kilograms doesn’t have quite the same poetic effect). As mediators, if we want parties to get comfortable saying yes to the bigger issues, then we should start working on getting them agreeing on smaller ones. On this note, we often refer to the agenda as the parties’ first agreement and this has a lot more meaning to it than many people realise.

The third move is patience.

The problem with planning is that we never end up using them the way we planned. Often there are too many variables that get in the way and we give up our preparation for the sake of wanting to be relevant to the moment. Daigo could have abandoned his strategy at any time during the match, especially when his health dropped precariously low. I know I would if I was in his position. You can barely see Daigo’s health at all, it is a sliver of a pixel when Justin unleashes Chun-Li’s Super Art! Thankfully, Daigo did not panic and had the patience to wait it out, placing his faith in his preparation and framing.

As mediators, how often do we tell ourselves right after hearing the opening statement from the parties, “This is hopeless”? I have had co-mediators who would turn to me right after the opening statement to say, “The parties’ opening positions are too far apart; this will never settle we might as well call it off”.

We must be patient. We are brought in to help parties when they are in conflict – is it any surprise they would not be anywhere near settlement at the opening stages of a mediation? Remember our training, explore the parties’ interests, treat all responses as information and maintain curiosity. Sometimes it may seem that we are close to running out of options, just like Daigo’s health bar, but it is in that precise moment that we may find the right opportunity to get a settlement.

Preparation, framing and patience. By placing these familiar concepts in an unfamiliar light, hopefully you might derive some new insights of your own.

Here’s to each mediator having your very own EVO Moment #37.


Peacemakers offers the services of internationally accredited mediators with extensive experience in resolving local and international conflicts. If you are involved in a dispute, let us know your requirements via email at mediate@peacemakers.sg, and we will recommend you the mediators that best meet your needs!

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