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Impact of Psyche on Mediation

Every individual has an image of the self and of others. Values, bias, conditioning tend to structure frames and constructs. Constructs pervaded by perspectives lead to positioning when beliefs are challenged. Beliefs, values, expectations get attached to experiences and this leads to projections and posturing.  In the interaction that follows, meaning, intention, reason tend to attribute and provide support for superimpositions and justifications.

While meaning, interpretation, conclusion, are acts which are corelated to communication, the intention of any communication or act involved in inter-personal relationship is to convey and establish a perspective, a claim or what is deemed right/appropriate. What and how an intention is expressed defines the interaction.

How the individual perceives and how the connections are automatically made by memory/experience result in cognition. To have an objective appraisal of the situation and to deflate the energy in the conflict, it is necessary to understand that personalities, perceptions and posturing form the frame of the conflict. There is a thread of emotions, experiences and vulnerability that makes one anxious, defensive and demand.

Often, what is termed as ego or emotional approach is aided by attitude, beliefs and constructs. The attitude of an individual is because of his/her natural approach, conditioning and appreciation of the situation or communication. It is backed by beliefs, which are in turn is a result of socio-cultural values, ability to trust or confidence in something. Together attitude and beliefs also aid constructs which depends on the context, the way one infers, interprets or concludes.

The construct leads to power struggle, anchoring of entitlements which generate feelings physiologically that manifest as emotions. When emotions take over, the energy in them manifest as positions. Goals are set, respect is demanded and ego or self- righteousness dictates actions. Challenge to the sense of entitlement leads to dissonance. This lays the bedrock for conflict space. William J.McGuire opines that thought process is influenced by:

  • Stability vs change
  • Consistency vs creativity
  • Constraint vs flexibility

Both the mediator and the participants go through challenges to their sense of self identity and self- esteem. Hence there is an inter-play of over confidence and projection of an idealized sense of negotiating propensity. What appears as aggressiveness, hostility, entitlement and so on is often a manifestation of their vulnerability and need for respect.

Understanding the reason for the behavior, the offer and counter offer and instilling confidence needs understanding of how their mind works. Mental states are categorized by the level of processing and reflecting. As perception is inclusive of experience, linking of cognitive systems to sensitiveness to environment and ability to adapt, the need is for both the mediator and the disputants to be aware of and to recognize the archetype to enable them to chose appropriate action.   

While so, beliefs being an associated state of consciousness has a relational element. It depends both on the environment and the internal state of the individual. Awareness depends on qualia.  The imagery and sense of self then gets anchored in what the mind

  • Feels
  • Does

Hence, volitions and intentions, inherent in every thought and action, manifesting as behavior depends on the cultural and social impact on the person. Valid processing then as a corollary needs’ introspection.

As the participants move from their original positions to recognizing data which challenges their stand, and they face the strengths and weakness of not only the other’s demand but also of their own, there is an impasse. At the outset, Elizabeth Bader says that there is an inflation. Participants tend to project demands and entitlements and have an image that helps them to project a stance. During the course of discussions when the mediator is able to recognize the intention and helps them by mirroring, reframing, validating, participants tend to be conscious of the other perspective. There is a sense of deflation but paradoxically, their goals and expectations still keep them anchored to their positions and there is an impasse.

Added to the dilemma of the participants, at this point, the mediator’s inner reaction or fear of ‘not getting a settlement’ or damage of his/her image as ‘good’ surfaces. Both the mediator and the participants face the possibility of the issue not getting settled. Change in the dynamics is possible if the mediator attempts to use the ‘respect’ he/she has from the participants and he/she has for them, to help evaluation and choice, by ‘reflective functioning,’ by enabling ‘participants to understand the reasons for each other’s actions.’

While empathy is often recommended as the tool for the mediator to help participants to move from their positions often in the case of narcissistic persons, use of empathy is said to make them feel a ‘sense of shame’ leading to defensiveness. Hence empathy would be useful when parties are open to feel and recognize. Also, the mediator’s attempt to empathize could affect the neutrality factor.  Realistic resolution is possible only parties have recognized that they have to let go, assess potential and make an informed choice. Shift in mind state and objective appraisal alone can lead to conscious acceptance and agreement. The real success of mediation is not therefore the outcome but more the reasoned and acknowledged choice.


Uma Ramanathan

Uma Ramanathan, Advocate, Mediator, and Mediator Trainer. She is also the Organising Secretary of the Tamilnadu Mediation and Conciliation Centre, High Court, Madras. She practiced as an advocate in the High Court Madras, Tamilnadu, India for 29 years. She has been practicing as a Mediator since 2005 and training mediators… MORE

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