What Role Does the Environment Have In Negotiation & Mediation?

from FineArtAmerica.com

If you had a choice in how to set up your mediation or negotiation room, how would it look?

I asked, as part of my PhD research at Griffith University Law School (I'm research nonverbal communication and mediation), this question.  In one of my three studies I asked key informants/gate keepers of the mediation community (professors and trainers) who are responsible for training new mediators this question and the answers I think are fairly interesting.

Stop for a moment and think about it- even if you think some of this is common sense.

Think to yourself, does any research on this in mediation or negotiation exist?  What I did was try to add scientific data to what we often hear- anecdotal stories.

I am not advocating one over the other either but rather I think we need both.  That is what my first and second study do- the first study (not shared here in this article) got this type of information from nearly 400 mediators across the world via a survey.

Then, for this second study I used ethnographic interviewing skills to go a bit deeper with the answers from the survey and hear from those responsible for teaching mediator.  These type of in-depth answers allow for the context to emerge which can complement or contradict the survey data.  The actual thesis does not stop at just providing the information but rather from a qualitative research perspective, I looked for themes that emerged as well as shared my view on the data.

At the very least this can provide a practitioner an opportunity to reflect on the information and see how it fits (or doesn't) with their views.

Before I post some of their responses, ask yourself again- how would you set-up your room?  Take a moment to think about all the aspects that you would take into account.  Also think about what impact it might or might not have.
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(lines skipped on purpose so while you think about it you don't peek at the replies)

Here are four different responses. Let me know what you think:

  • The ideal includes a room where the tables can be rearranged to make different shapes. There is value to different shapes.   Circles are good but they can't be too big or too small.
  • Round tables; they are more intimate and encourage informality. Rectangle tables can give confidence to new mediators.
  • Clutter-free, includes a whiteboard and rectangle table.  A rectangle table allows various seating locations.
  • Round table, parties should feel comfortable with chairs and space. A round table removes edges, everyone is working together.

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