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Emotions are processed in the mind, in our brains, but they also occur throughout our bodies as well. Strong emotional reactions often manifest in physical ways: a red face, angry gestures and tense body language. We know that words have weight, but these physical displays alone are sometimes enough to sour and even derail negotiations. They can quickly turn productive dialogue into a needless debate.

A useful distinction here is between the emotional and rational body. When the emotional body takes over and these physical manifestations start to appear, the conversation shifts back into the past, to debate and fault and blame. This prevents the rational body from looking toward the future and a sustainable solution that meets all of the parties’ needs.

The goal for a mediator then is identify the triggers that bring forth the emotional body and remove them from the negotiation as quickly as possible. Here are 4 simple steps to help parties return to their rational bodies and put the mediation back on track.

  1. Separate the parties. Take a break in separate caucusrooms, starting with the strongest emotional body first.
  2. Listen and reflect on the meanings that triggered the emotional body and acknowledge their impact. Keep at this until the rational body has taken back control.
  3. Re-establish commitment to dialogue and the future where solutions are to be found.
  4. Assess and repeat as required for the other party(s).

It’s impossible to fully compartmentalize our emotions when we’re engaged in conflict, especially when the stakes our high. These simple steps are an excellent starting point for getting the mediation back on track towards a lasting and equitable solution.

Your questions and comments are welcome and appreciated.

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David Gould (LLB, QC, C Med) has helped hundreds of lawyers and their clients – business and government organizations, and individuals – in conflict situations to co-create solutions for the future. For more information, contact: or visit