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Body Language in Mediation Including Recuperation Patterns during Work Cycles for Mediators

“Words comprise only about 10 percent of human communication, while non verbal behavior makes up all the rest” (Moore and Yamamoto, 1987).

Welcome to the silent world beyond words where ninety percent of information concerning body language, voice tone and facial expression, unfolds. Whether collaborating, accommodating or combating, regardless of gender, color or creed, people communicate through non-verbal behavior all the time! Wonder and Donovan in their book entitled Whole Brain Thinking (1984), theorize that non-verbal communication is a function of the brain’s right hemisphere and that verbal communication is a function of the brain’s left hemisphere. Attention to verbal and non-verbal behavior offers mediators an opportunity for one hundred percent communication.

As a Certified Movement Analyst and Mediator, I venture to merge movement analysis with mediation. Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) offers mediators a ‘frame’ through which to observe non-verbal behavior and a ‘language’ in which to communicate observations. The following information was shared on May 14, 2003, during a presentation I gave on Body Language in Mediation for some 50 mediators who attended the Seattle Federal Executive Board ADR Consortium’s Third Annual Training Conference.

Not a word is uttered or a thought shaped without an accompanying action, however subtle, somewhere in the body” (Ibid).

Movement Scenarios in Mediation

1. Two men, in opposition to one another, retreat from the table. The wife of one of them advance(s) full force and would not stop talking.

2. A mother sighs deeply, more in despair than relief, as she sinks into her chair and slowly rubs her forehead while an agreement is being written.

3. A supervisor thrusts a document diagonally across the table at an employee, in a threatening manner. The employee changes posture to ward off the attack.

In each of the above scenarios, the mediator became a dancer in the dance and a contributor to the choreography of the dance, as will soon be explained.

“Sequences of movement are the sentences of speech, the real carriers of the message emerging from the world of silence.”
Rudolf Laban

Laban’s theory includes the elements of Body, Effort, Shape and Space. “Combinations of these elements create the feeling-tones and texture of movement” (Hackney, 1998). The following overview of LMA will not include the Laban notation system. However, this system will be included in work scheduled for later release.

Body: refers to posture, gesture, body attitude, kinesphere and how the whole body is organized and connected in movement.

Posture: “A posture is an action of the whole body” (Moore/Yamamoto).

Gesture: “A gesture is an action confined to one part of the body” (Ibid).

Posture/Gesture Merger: occurs when emotion and commitment merge into action.

Body Attitude: reflects the attitude and character of a person as they hold and move their body in response to their environment. “Body Attitude is sometimes used to gain an over-all picture of a person’s movement tendencies” (Dell, 1970).

Kinesphere: Laban coined the term kinesphere “…from the Greek, ‘kinesis’-movement, and ‘sphaira’-ball-sphere, according to the rotary nature of the movement of our joints” (Groff, 1990).

From a physical perspective, kinesphere refers to how a person uses their personal reach space and “…is defined physically by the distance that can be reached all around the body without taking a step” (Hackney). Personal reach space can be small, close to the body; medium, about eighteen inches away from the body, or large, when a person reaches out as far as they can.

From a psychological perspective, kinesphere refers to emotional space, defined by “…the space the mover senses is hers or his, the space s/he effects” (Hackney).

Master mediator and author Bernard Mayer, referred to “holding ones own space” and that “emotional space is part of what we negotiate.” (2001)

Effort: involves the elements of weight, space, time and flow. These qualities reflect the inner motivation to move that are observable in movement. Efforts are described on a continuum of polar opposites by the degree of intensity.

Weight-light/strong is about an active or passive sensing of ones weight in relationship to gravity. “…and using one’s weight to have an intentional impact on the environment” (Moore/Yamamotto).

Space-direct/indirect reflects our attention to stimuli. Direct-space is single focused and indirect is multi-focused.

Time-sustained/sudden concerns how we use time, quickly or indulgently, to communicate or complete a task.

Flow-free/bound is about the “…precision and control of motion” (Ibid) and the degree of muscle tension held (bound) or not held (free) in the body. Charlie Chaplin frequently used bound-flow to portray his ‘tramp’ character. Flow is considered the baseline through which weight, space and time are formulated. Without flow, there is no action.

Shape: refers to the forms the body creates in space such as “…pin, wall, ball, screw or pyramid” (Hackney). Shape qualities include rising/sinking (up/down) in the vertical dimension, advancing/retreating (forward/back) in the sagital dimension and spreading/enclosing (side/side) in the horizontal dimension. Shapes change with shape flow as the mover responds to the environment. For example, if a party in mediation sinks in their shape they could be giving up or giving in! When police officers meet a dangerous situation they sometimes create a ‘wall’ shape with their whole body to ward off attack. “Space is a hidden feature of movement and movement is a visible aspect of space.”
Rudolph Laban

Space: as in ‘Space Harmony’ is “…about sequences of movement in Space” (Hackney). This aspect refers to psychological spatial intent and physical spatial pulls that supported the body. Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov could not leap as if suspended in the air and defy the pull of gravity without ‘spatial intent’ and support from ‘spatial pulls’. Many athletes use space to support their action. Laban used crystal forms such as the tetrahedron, icosahedron and the cube to describe spatial pulls in dimensions and planes. The dimensions are: Vertical-up/down, Sagital-forward/back and Horizontal-side/side. The planes are: Vertical-up/down and side/side, Sagital-forward/back and up/down, and Horizontal-side/side and forward/back.

Effort combinations: “Single Effort elements crystallize into configurations of 2, 3 or 4 elements” (Groff). Efforts combined in two’s are called states; in three’s, drives and in four’s full action drives.

States combine two efforts to create six states: Awake-space/time.
Stable-space/weight and

Action drives combine weight, space and time to create eight action drives. These drives are divided into two sections termed indulging and fighting drives.

Indulging drives are:
Press-direct/strong/sustained and

Mediators often use indulging drives during the process of mediation.

Fighting drives are:
Slash-indirect/strong/quick and

Parties in conflict may use a combination of different effort qualities in fighting drives. Mediators, who contrast fighting drives with indulging drives during mediation, help to balance the interaction. All four efforts rarely combine, although an observer may see ‘peak’ moments of a four-effort combination. Hitler’s speeches to the masses in Germany would peak in his body language and voice tone when he accessed strong-weight/direct-space/sudden-time and bound-flow. A four-effort combination in a full action drive can create a high impact and an electrifying experience for the observer!

In addition to the ‘flow less’ fighting and indulging drives, Laban also named drives consisting of two effort combinations with flow in the following way:

Vision Drive: “The combination of flow, space and time where changes in the quality of weight is absent” (Dell, 1970). President George Bush Jr., driven by his vision often uses bound-flow, direct-space and fluctuations in sustained and sudden-time, with little or no sense of weight.

Passion Drive: “Flow combined with weight and time where there is no attitude toward space…” (Ibid). Michael Jackson in his dance routines, often accesses free and bound-flow, light-weight and quick-time, with little or no attention to direct or indirect-space.

Spell Drive: “The combination of flow, space and weight, where a change in the quality of time is absent” (Ibid). Mother Teresa tended to use bound-flow, direct-space and strong-weight, which rendered her a formidable character.

Body, Effort, Shape and Space in all of their ramifications are not separate systems. They connect and change with the constant flux of body movement in relationship to inner and outer stimuli.

The Movement Scenarios mentioned earlier will now be expanded to place Laban’s concepts of Body, Effort, Space and Shape in the context of mediation. Given that I usually demonstrate body movement for people to see action and this presentation is in writing, visualizing the movements may be helpful to you, dear reader. An old Chinese proverb states “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand.”

Analysis of Movement Scenario #1.

Two men, in opposition to one another, retreat from the table. The wife of one of them advance(s) full force and would not stop talking.

This 45 minute ‘issue’ based small claims court mediation concerned damage to a personal item while in repair. The two men were in retreat (shape) while the wife of one of them was in advance (shape) with a ‘psychologically’ extended kinesphere (body reach space). She spoke continuously and filled the whole room ‘energetically’, leaving no ‘voice space’ for others to enter.

Observing this dynamic, the mediator extended her kinesphere energetically to meet the woman’s energy level and cut to the chase by saying in a warm tone “Bless your cotton socks! I see you bursting at the seams. Will you hold your wild horses for a while and let the guys speak?” At first the woman looked astonished, and then she laughed and retreated from the table saying, “Oh, I do go on!” She patted her husband’s knee and said affectionately, “Your turn dear!” He smiled at her and then spoke in a pleasant manner directly to the man across the table from him. Both men shifted their body positions from retreat to advance and soon came to an agreement, as the woman and the mediator looked on.

When the mediator asked the woman if the agreement was okay with her, she said succinctly, “Yes” to the mediator and “You did a good job!” to the men. “And so did you” the mediator said to her. Everyone laughed and then shook hands. Head, heart and hands were in sync, which was heartwarming to observe.

In this mediation, the mediator joined in the dance and influenced the choreography of the dance with and between parties by extending her kinesphere energetically in a warm way to meet the woman’s extended kinesphere. “Kinesthetic empathy involves physical identification with the movements one observes being executed” (Moore and Yamamoto). Identification with movement stems from proprioceptors which are “…sensory receptors located in muscles, tendons, joints, and the internal ear. Proprioceptors provide information about body position and movement. Such sensations give us information about muscle tension, the position and tension of our joints, and equilibrium” (Tortora and Anagnostakos, 1984).

Imagine your favorite sport and how your body responds to the excitement of watching it! Whether kicking a ball, swinging a bat or a racket, running, skiing, swimming, or on the back of a racing horse, your body is likely to be responding.

Attention to body sensation from proprioceptors can help mediators to ‘identify’ a party’s emotion. Emotion can then be fed back from the mediator to parties as understanding, empathy, or appreciation.

In Movement Scenario #1, the mediator ‘linked’ the non-verbal communication of kinesthetic empathy with verbal communication to gain the woman’s attention. In other words, Whole Brain Thinking! The mediator also used direct-space and sudden-time (efforts) called awake state to communicate. In this way, the woman was gently ‘awakened’ to receive ‘recognition’ through her ‘blessed socks’ and being seen as ‘bursting at the seams’. She also received ‘empowerment’ through a choice to retreat or not, with the question “Will you hold your wild horses…?” She chose to retreat and in this time-limited mediation, her action was appropriate.

Bush and Folger, in The Promise of Mediation (1994), assert that ‘recognition’ and ‘empowerment’ in mediation are ingredients for ‘transformation’. In this situation, the mediator turned a difficult session into a potentially transformative one by responding to the party’s body language through kinesthetic awareness.

Analysis of Movement Scenario #2.

A mother sighs deeply, more in despair than relief, as she sinks into her chair and slowly rubs her forehead while an agreement is being written.

In this 4 hour ‘interest’ based parenting plan mediation between a former husband and wife who were the parents of two young children, one co-mediator noticed the mother sink in her torso as the other co-mediator was writing up the agreement. From the LMA perspective, rising or sinking in the vertical dimension of up/down is indicative of sensing one’s weight (effort), therefore one’s being. In the context of this mediation, for this mother, sinking could indicate a sense of giving up or giving in. “Are you okay?” the observing co-mediator asked the woman. “It’s all so real!” she said in a sad tone of voice. This co-mediator suggested another caucus, to which all agreed. During caucus, the mother revealed concerns not aired before. While the father, who appeared to dominate the relationship, was getting all he wanted, the mother was not getting what she needed to be a good mother to their children. After this caucus, and a more open discussion between the parents, the agreement was amended and the ‘power of authority’ between the parents was equalized.

“Body Movement is not the symbol for expression it is the expression.”
Irmgard Bartenieff

The body doesn’t lie! Satisfaction for this mother stemmed from a co-mediator who observed and responded to her body language. Mayer (2000) states “The process of resolution occurs along cognitive, emotional and behavioral dimensions” An observation of and response to a non-verbal ‘emotional’ state by the mediator revealed a ‘variable’ in the process that eventually influenced this mother’s ‘cognition’ and ‘behavior’ in the resolution of her conflict.

International mediator and trainer Bill Lincoln, in his training manual In Pursuit of Promises (1995-2001), theorizes that the basic ingredients for a ‘durable’ settlement include satisfaction along procedural-process, substantive-substance of agreement, and psychological-relationship lines:

Procedurally: this mother participated more fully in the process during the last caucus.

Substantively: a more ‘durable’ agreement was reached when she stated her needs.

Psychologically: she ‘related’ her concerns along ‘relationship’ lines, after which she was ‘satisfied’ when the agreement was amended.

By the mediator observing and responding to this mother’s body language, the mother also received ‘recognition’ and ‘empowerment’ during a potentially ‘transformative’ experience. J.A. Scimecca, (1987), suggests that a base for social change is created when you give power to the powerless. What better way to create social change than to empower a mother!

Analysis of Movement Scenario #3.

A supervisor thrusts a document diagonally across the table at an employee, in a threatening manner. The employee changes posture to ward off the attack.

In this ‘position’ based 5 hour mediation between a supervisor and an employee who was claiming wrongful dismissal, analyzing the body language in LMA terms is complex, and interesting, so please bear with me!

The supervisor set a tone of attack at the beginning of the mediation with a threatening posture gesture merger (body) as she thrust the document at the employee. In her ‘unconscious’ behavior, the supervisor used the power of an action drive in a combination of strong/direct/sudden (efforts). In LMA terms, this combination of efforts is called a punch. The employee responded to the ‘non verbal’ attack with retreat, by pulling back from the table. Then the employee came forward to create a barrier against the supervisor by placing both elbows on the table and holding her head in her hands.

Observing the dance between parties, the mediator shifted her body weight toward the offended party and briefly mirrored the employee’s movements in ‘relational empathy’. Then the mediator sat up straight and said to the offended party “Take all the time you need to read the document.” She delivered her ‘directive’ statement in strong-weight, sustained-time and direct-space efforts. This indulging combination of efforts is called a Press.

The difference between the ‘punch’ fighting action of the supervisor and the ‘press’ indulging action of the mediator is a change in the time factor from sudden to sustained. In this sophisticated dance between the mediator and the parties, the mediator attempted to balance the power between the parties by changing the time factor. However, the mediator was unable to bring the parties to a ‘collaborative’ settlement as each party held firmly to their positions of advance and retreat in a dance where n’er the twain shall meet!

I cannot leave Scenario #3 without sharing more about the diagonal pathway the supervisor used to deliver the document to the employee. So, please bear with me in my movement analysis of it in the hopes that you may find it as fascinating as I do.

The power of impact in a diagonal pathway resides in the fact that it cuts through the vertical, sagital and horizontal planes at the mid point and that “A diagonal has three equal spatial pulls” (Hackney. 1998). Maximum firing of all neurons takes place on the pure diagonal, according to Laban and an American neurological surgeon named Kabat. To better visualize the concept of a diagonal movement, imagine a cube with a point in the center and a diagonal line cutting through the center from forward/right side/high to back/left side/low

To deliver the document in this supervisor’s threatening posture gesture merger toward the employee, one shoulder was forward/right side/high and the opposite hip was back/left side/low. Diagonal movements can be observed in the swing of a baseball bat, a tennis racket or a golf club, and especially in the release of a ball from a baseball pitcher. Note the diagonal pathway of pitcher from back/right side/high to forward/left side/low, or visa versa, which these ‘trace forms’ in movement create. A trace form in LMA is used to describe a pathway of movement.

The juxtaposition of Mayer’s process of ‘resolution’ with Lincoln’s theory of ‘satisfaction’ and Laban’s concept space harmony and effort would look like this:

Mayer’s dimensions: cognitive emotional behavioral

Lincoln’s theory: procedural psychological substantive

Laban’s dimensions vertical horizontal sagital

and Efforts: Up/down-weight Side/side-space Forward/back-time

What a curious study in verbal and non-verbal communication this juxtaposition would create, especially from the multi-cultural perspective of international negotiations!

Points of Entry for Movement Observation

“… Body movement is a highly structured, culturally coded form of symbolic communication”

Given the many variables in mediation, it would be challenging for mediators to observe non-verbal cues all the time. However, going in and out of observing body language would give a mediator more information than not observing at all! Beyond ‘natural’ and ‘spontaneous’ observations, here are some ‘points of entry’ to consider:

1. Observe the body language of parties when they enter the room and how they respond to each other. Note the tone of voice and choice of words. Observe if the body attitude has changed when parties leave the room and ask ‘self’ what happened in the shift. Reflective practices during and after mediation are a tool for insight.

2. Observe the ‘predominant’ emotion portrayed in a parties posture and in their gestures at key stages in the mediation such as: introduction, opening statements, agenda, negotiation, caucus and agreement. Do parties look like they are attacking others or defending themselves as in advancing or retreating in the sagital dimension (forward/back)? Do parties look inflated or deflated such as in rising or sinking in the vertical dimension (up/down). or widening or enclosing in the horizontal dimension (side/side)? Observations are especially useful in power differentials and in deciding entry points for balancing power.

3. When appropriate, adjust your body posture, and use effort qualities to communicate more effectively, as the mediator did when the supervisor attacked the employee. Know when to extend your kinesphere in ‘relational empathy’, as the mediator did in the small claims mediation.

4. When parties are stuck in effort qualities that hold them to issues, interests or positions, choose particular effort qualities to ‘reframe’ a potential shift in perspective such as light-weight/direct-space and free-flow. If a conflict is escalating out of control, briefly model the stable state of sustained-time and free-flow to de-escalate the tension.

Developing Recuperation Patterns during Work Cycles

“Conflict is inevitable in all social and personal relationships. The Latin root for conflict, ‘con’ and ‘fligere’ means ‘together’ and to ‘strike’ or more simply ‘to strike together’”(Tooney, 1994). From the ashes of fire rises the phoenix! Staying centered in the ‘heat of the fire’ of mediation is challenging! Despite telling yourself repeatedly that this is not your problem when parties ‘strike together’ in conflict, your body may be affected by the tension in the room. Your body doesn’t lie!

Body sensation is body intelligence! Pay attention to your body cues for information and develop mini recuperation patterns for yourself. Run a ‘body check’ to see if and where you are holding tension. Using the LMA material presented, here are some ideas for you to take care of you. These ‘mini’ recuperation patterns will recharge your battery:

1. Check if your breathing has become restricted when you are ‘hooked’ in a conflict similar to your own, or your ‘core values’ are being challenged. Are you using bound-flow and direct-space in your response to a party? If you add sudden-time to this equation, you have shifted out of neutral and entered a fighting drive.

2. Recuperate by breathing 3-D. Count on the inhale, hold 1.2. and 1.2.3 4 on the exhale, hold 1.2. On the inhale, imagine your whole torso is filled with air like a giant balloon: up/down, forward/back, and side/side. Slowly let your breath out as if the air is being released from the balloon. Repeat this 3-D inhale and exhale several times. 3-D breathing will oxygenate your system and create internal space for your organs to move. It can be done discreetly during mediation and in a much larger fashion when you take a break or complete mediation.

3. If you feel tense, do a full ‘body check’ using your kinesthetic awareness. Let go of bound-flow by taking a 3-D breath and shaking out the tension in your muscles, if you can without making a spectacle of yourself. Are you smiling? Consciously bring free-flow to your body. Do a whole body shake out on a break and take a break whenever the tension in your body becomes overwhelming. If you do not release your tension, it will effect the mediation.

4. If you tend to use sudden-time, slow down your speech and gestures occasionally in sustained-time.

5. If you tend to use strong-weight, imagine yourself as light as a feather and uplift yourself. In the process, let go to let be!

6. If you use an abundance of direct-space attention as most mediators do in this work, allow yourself to recuperate occasionally with indirect multi-focused attention. Briefly, soften your gaze and take in all that is around you and 3-D breathe.

7. Ask self are you sitting up straight and relaxed or holding a body posture that is out of alignment with gravity? Are you slumping forward, leaning back, or tilting right or left? Ask self are you listening to parties with your whole body or just with your ears?

8. For a complete mental break after mediation or on a break, ‘space out to space in’. Soften your attention to outside stimuli and turn your attention inward. Go to your favorite spot in nature and take a few 3-D breaths. Doing this visualized ‘mental break’, in conjunction with a 3-D breathing ‘physical break’ is a dynamite recuperation pattern, congruent with care for your whole being.

To conclude, our body and our energy in the space around us create a ‘symbolic relationship’ to others and to the environment. Mediators who engage the whole body by using visual, audio and kinesthetic senses, with the whole brain by using the verbal left hemisphere and non-verbal right hemisphere, practice ‘holistic’ and ‘integrated’ mediation. In this way, as a dancer in the dance of mediation and a contributor to the choreography of the dance, a mediator can communicate 100%.

Copyright 2003: All Rights Reserved


Bartenieff, Irmgard. (1980) Body Movement: Coping with the Environment. Paris, London and New York. Gordon and Breach Science Publishers.

Bush, Robert A Baruch, and Folger, Joseph P. (1994) The Promise of Mediation. San Francisco. Jossey-Bass Inc.

Dell, Cecily. (1970) A Primer for Movement Description. New York. Dance Notation Bureau, Inc.

Editors. (1991) The Merriam-Webster Concise School and Office Dictionary. Massachusetts. Merriam-Webster, Publishers.

Groff, Ed. (1990) Laban Movement Analysis: A Historical, Philosophical and Theoretical Perspective. Master Degree Thesis. Connecticut College Dance Department.

Foss, Sonja, K. (1996) Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Illinois, Waveland Press, Inc.

Hackney, Peggy. (1998) Making Connections: Total Body Integration Through Bartenieff Fundamentals. Amsterdam, Gordon and Breach Publishers.

Laban, Rudolph. (1966) The Language of Movement. Boston. Plays, Inc.

Lincoln, William, F. (1995-2001) In Pursuit of Promises: The Spirit and Skills of Negotiations. Tacoma. The Lincoln Institute Inc.

Mayer, Bernard. (2000) The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution: A Practitioner’s Guide. San Francisco. Jossey-Bass Inc.

Mayer, Bernard. (2001) Presentation: Core 1. Yellow Springs, Ohio. Antioch McGregor University. MA program in Conflict Resolution,

Moore, Carol-Lynne, and Yamamoto, Kaori, (1988) Beyond Words: Movement Observation and Analysis. New York, Gordon and Beach Publishers.

Scimecca, J.A. (1987) Conflict Resolution: the Basis for Social Control or Social Change? from Sandole, D.J.D. and Sandole-Staroste, I., Conflict Management and Problem Solving: Interpersonal to Interpersonal Applications. New York. New York University Press.

Ting-Tooney, S. (1994) “Managing Intercultural Conflicts Effectively.” In L. Samovar & R. Porter (Eds). Intercultural Communication: A reader (pp. 360-372)

Tortora, Gerard J. and Anagnostakos, Nicholas P. (1984), Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. New York. Harper Row, Publishers.

Wonder, Jacquelyn and Donovan, Priscilla. (1984). Whole Brain Thinking: Working from Both Sides of the Brain. New York. William Morrow and Company.


Ana Schofield

In 2001, Ana Schofield began a Master's degree in Conflict Resolution via Antioch University McGregor in Yellow Springs, Ohio and graduated in 2003. During this time, she became certified as a mediator. Now Ana weaves her work experience together as she maintains a private practice in Olympia, Washington that offers creative… MORE >

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