The Newfound Role of Hostility in Mediation

Kaleb Kimball

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Prior to the study this article breaks down, it was believed that mediators should be calm, kind, and empathetic to both parties. The findings of the study suggest otherwise. When 79 mock-negotiations were carried out virtually it was found that the mediators told to behave with hostility toward both parties achieved a higher success rate than those who were polite and empathetic to both parties. According the article 85% of the hostile mediators achieved resolution whereas only 59% of the kind negotiators achieved resolution. This stark difference in results is not enough to prove to professionals that mediators should be trained or at least approach negotiations with hostility, however the researchers draw connections to a scenario many people have experienced: sibling rivalry. When two siblings bicker and an adult intervenes loudly and with little regard to politeness, the siblings not only stop but they will likely also maintain cooperative behavior afterward. The reason for this is the unification in the face of a common enemy that every species on Earth has at some point experienced. The siblings see the rancorous parent and are more inclined to forget their differences and retreat. When applied to a more mature setting the reasoning is the same: present a common enemy before the parties in negotiation, and they are more likely to resolve their issues as well as cooperate in the future.

    If this research indeed is the first glimpse at a positive correlation between hostile mediation and successful negotiation, then psychologists have some things to consider. Namely, the potential of professional mediators that can reliably defuse situations between two parties. A new occupation could arise in strength  on the premise of successful mediation alone. Human resources workers within companies might now effectively resolve disputes in a way that not only maintains but fosters future cooperation and worker productivity. Besides organizational applications, any number of individuals could use these skills in their lives. There is one small problem though: negativity. If the hostility of the mediator is contained to the negotiation the mediator’s friends may still see them with a less positive view. And outside of negotiations, this two-way negativity will impact the individuals’ social lives in a variety of ways. In short, those training in hostile mediation should tread very carefully.

    I’ve never made the mistake of discarding harshness as a good option, so I connected with this article quickly. I’m not surprised to see that hostile mediation was successful, as tough love is big part of caring for your friends and family. And having those things means resolving issues from time to time. Although my current methods for resolving issues likely won’t be shaped by what this article revealed to me, I won’t soon forget it. My only question is what the follow-up studies will reveal. This could have a big impact on human resource departments and psychologists in general, and thus it will likely receive plenty of attention. I think that the trend will remain consistent in those follow-up studies, but I won’t put any further stock in the study until then. This is mostly a concept involved with evolutionary psychology, however on a broader note applications of the learning perspective are apparent here. The hostile mediator is acting as distress for the two parties, causing both of them to retract from current conflict to perhaps even cooperate “against” the mediator. This change in behavior is largely based on experience. A more cognitive point of view might suggest that what the parties think of the negotiator (do they fear them?) has an impact on the success of the negotiation. When the mediator turns hostile, the parties will likely feel threatened and regard the mediator with alarm. This marks a change in their perception of that mediator. They’re harsh, and they don’t mess around. While the interpretation of this study’s results may depend on beliefs, the truth that may reside here is that hostile mediation works.


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