What Help Can Neuroscience Be With Dispute Resolution?

Mediating is not just a useful skill for divorce lawyers. It is a necessary part of many people’s jobs. Whether you are an official intervening between two organisations with a commercial dispute, a leader with a team of individuals not seeing eye to eye, or an HR manager stepping in to settle a conflict between employees at work, it helps to have a basic understanding of human behaviour in order to achieve a successful outcome.

Neuroscience can therefore be an important tool for mediators to use; while the science is still in its relative infancy, learning more about why people behave the way they do can only be positive for bringing a mutually acceptable resolution to conflict.

Mediation skills

In times of conflict, emotions are generally running high and it can be difficult for either party to see the issue with any mental clarity.

While any mediator knows that the first step to achieving this clarity is to calm emotions and recognise the cognitive biases that are creating the strong feelings, it helps to understand what is going on in the brain.

In the world of business in particular, there is a tendency to treat people as if they are rational, logical beings, in control of the facts and able to make decisions based on sound reasoning all the time. Neuroscience has shown that this is just not the case.

It has been demonstrated that someone with damage to their amygdale (a region of the brain involved in emotional reaction) cannot make even simple decisions.

So, emotions play an absolutely key role in decision-making; and when these emotions are allowed to run unchecked, they can effectively ‘hijack’ the brain and lead to reflexive, stress-response decisions and behaviour.

This is when conflict becomes more likely - and harder to resolve. So if we underestimate the power of emotions, we do so at our peril.

Applying neuroscience

Neuroscience has already started to be applied in diverse fields such as law, leadership, and marketing. It is no surprise therefore that HR and mediation specialists are becoming more interested in it.

Key to the role of a mediator is to be able to convince the parties involved to listen to each other. As well as calming emotions, another way to do this is to boost oxytocin levels in the disputants.

Oxytocin is a neurochemical associated with compassion and love; boosting it may make the parties more amenable to listen to the other side’s point of view. Some mediator training is already introducing techniques for doing this, using ‘mirroring’ techniques to build trust, helping conflicting parties relax, and boosting the potential influence levels of the mediator. It is also helping mediators learn the essential body language and behavioural ‘signs’ that indicate deeper emotions and feeling in their subjects.

Brain science is therefore providing a useful framework for professionals to better understand what they are dealing with when it comes to conflict. While generalisations are inadvisable, early applications of neuroscience have helped in reducing stress levels, reducing the emotional response, and encouraging greater understanding of the other side’s point of view.

The NeuroPower Group is at the forefront of introducing new approaches to organisational development through the findings of neuroscience. We apply them to all types of businesses, developing high performing teams and enhancing leadership.

Find out more by contacting us