Association for Conflict Resolution - Chicago Chapter

Conflict Resolution in Practice – Working With the Fight or Flight Response

01 Oct 2015 10:03 PM | Joe Dillon (Administrator)

From the Mediator's Monthly Newsletter

Written by Ross Edwards

Research has shown that, when people's sympathetic nervous system is activated –the "fight or flight response" – they essentially become incapable of thinking clearly, acting skillfully, or making clear-headed choices; not conducive to resolving conflict. Skilled mediators who observe a fight or flight response during mediations reduce or eliminate it before proceeding.

There are many ways to accomplish this. Spending a minute or two deeply and consciously breathing often does the trick, if the disputant is receptive to it. As does taking a short break and getting some space and fresh air. Some mediators believe that, a disputant getting "triggered" can be a good cue to separate the parties and start caucusing. While having the parties talk to one another is valuable, as is feeling and expressing anger, fear, and discomfort, this is less true when one is locked in a fight or flight response, especially if the other disputant senses a competitive advantage.

Mediators too need to be aware of their mind states when mediating disputes. We are not immune to these feelings. We cannot serve disputants and help them peacefully resolve their conflict if we don't feel some degree of peace in our hearts and minds. These practices are just as important to mediators as to disputants.

But these lessons are not just relevant to mediated disputes; they apply to all conflict. Making a conscious decision to not engage in argument or any type of adversarial discussion while "triggered" will ensure you don't say or do something you will later regret, and will make it more likely that your needs, and the needs of the other person, will be met. So next time you feel your heart racing at the outset or during an argument, do yourself a favor and take a break.

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