16 Jun Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Using Body Language to Seal The Deal at Mediation
“Read the room!” Have you ever heard that phrase? When you enter a space, even without hearing a single word spoken, most people will get a sense of what people are feeling just by surveying the faces and body language of people present.
It’s a good bet that at a friendly social gathering, people will look relaxed, open, and content. If you walk into a viewing room at a funeral parlour, you will probably see some very somber faces and bodies that look to be consoling each other. Even if the context of the situation is removed, facial expressions and body language should give you a sense of the mood of the room. For some, the ability to “read the room” is intuitive and for others it takes practice. Please note that there is no perfect science to this exercise as each individual person reads body language cues differently based on their own culture, experiences and personalities. Understanding the benefits of reading the room and putting the skill to use will help you with clear communication in mediation and in life .
It’s a given that humans are social creatures. Through socialization as we grow, we learn a myriad of ways to express ourselves and to understand others. While we have developed sophisticated languages, according to Mehrabian’s Rule, verbal information (words) account for only about 7% of our understanding in interpersonal communication. The tone of what’s said provides 38% of how we decode a situation. And a full 55% of our understanding usually comes from observing a person’s body language.
Of course, there are exceptions to Mehrabian’s Rule. People with visual, auditory, or mental processing disabilities have adapted their style of information reception based on their respective abilities. In general, Mehrabian’s Rule gives you insight into how other people are “reading” you.
In this blog post, Logan Cooper draws on Mark Bowden’s Winning Body Language: Control the Conversation, Command Attention, And Convey the Right Message – Without Saying A Word to explain how exhibiting and understanding body language can help immensely during mediation.
Although Bowden is writing with a business audience in mind, the insight and tips he provides in his book work very well in a mediation setting. After all, usually mediation is used to help parties in conflict come to a mutually agreeable resolution on a matter of great material and/or emotional importance. Ensuring communication between parties is clear, productive and not open to misinterpretation greatly aids in that goal.
What You Say and How You Say It
There are three common elements in any face-to-face communication: words, tone, body language. If we accept Mehrabian’s Rule as a general guide, as much as what you say is important, how you say it will ultimately determine the way it’s received.
Nonverbal communication is especially integral in forming the recipient’s understanding of the messenger’s feelings, attitude or intent. Bowden notes that nonverbal cues are about 10 times more important in the way your audience perceives your belief or the conviction of your message.
When body language does not match the words being spoken, it creates cognitive dissonance. That said, we are more prone to believe nonverbal cues when there appears to be disagreement between words and actions. As Bowden writes: “Unless an audience sees the right image, it doesn’t hear the right message.”
Signalling: Reading Body Cues
Bowden divides the body into certain “planes:”
- The grotesque plane falls beneath the waist.
- The truth plane is just above the waist.
- The passion plane is at chest level.
- The mouth and jaw are the plane of disclosure. The temple and eyes are the thought plane.
Particular gestures or actions along these planes affects how someone receives a message, and also affects the way the messenger feels. Part of this process is socialization and learning to read cues (the receiver) and part is instinctual (the messenger) and based on physiological reaction.
For example, if a person has their arms at their sides with their hands along the grotesque plane, with their stomach crunched in and their shoulders hunched, the body language suggests a position of attack or defence. It’s the vital or kill points of the body we unconsciously protect when we feel threatened or aim to appear threatening.
Moreover, the chest area, part of the passion plane, has an element of bravado. The passion plane can be perceived as aggressive. Actions such as arm movements along this plane suggest energy may be raised too much and be unrestrained.
Bowden advises to keep your hands away from covering or obscuring your mouth and jaw, part of the horizontal gesture of disclosure. While it doesn’t mean your lying if your hands go to your mouth and jaw, that is the feeling it engenders.
Finally, the eyes and temples are on the thought plane. Actions in these areas can be an indication of mental strain.
Applicability of Bowden’s Concepts To Mediation
Rather than second-guessing what your body is doing while in the midst of interacting with someone, think about what message you would like to convey going into mediation, how your body can help convey that message, and how to help centre yourself if you feel tensions rising.
Although handshakes may be an endangered species after COVID-19, Bowden says something as simple as getting the “upper hand” (one palm covers the other from above) when shaking hands can communicate a sense of dominance. In a mediation, when you want to generate positive feelings in the other party to aid in settlement talks, giving the other party the “upper hand” can be a disarming strategy.
Bowden recommends simplifying body language for maximum effect. Symmetry feels safer for a receiver and aiming for congruence on both sides of the body helps message reception. Asymmetrical gestures add tension and confusion to a receiver.
Keeping hand movements and gestures along the truth plane (just above the waist) prevents you from feeling stressed and communicates a sense of sincerity to a receiver.
In the event people get up from the table and walk around as a part of an attack, staying seated and restrained may lower the outburst’s intensity faster.
Finally, to obtain a feeling of calm, centre yourself by interlacing your fingers over your navel.
When the opposing party enters the mediation space, how will they “read the room”? By paying attention to your body language, you can be confident that your actions will help communicate the words you plan to say.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan Cooper joined the Cooper Mediation team in November 2017 and devotes 100% of her professional time to mediating at roster-rates. She has mediated over 150 cases in the areas of personal injury, property damage, long-term disability and other insurance-related disputes. She has handled global mediations, cases with multiple parties, self-represented litigants and cases with complicated technical and interpersonal challenges.
Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (416) 726-1344.
To schedule a mediation with Logan, visit: https://coopermediation.ca/logan-cooper-online-calendar/.