I love talking about the amygdala. I love talking about it as much as kindergarten teachers love talking about the first day of kindergarten! Why you might ask, is this so important? Many people have heard about the amygdala during high school science class. It isn’t a brand-new concept. However, reminding people how their brain works really helps them to understand what is happening. When you wonder what do mediators do, some of it is keeping the amygdala from getting activated.
One of my favorite analogies is the see-saw. Imagine that your emotions sit on one side of the see-saw and your rational side sits on the other side of the see-saw. When the emotions flare up, that side of the see-saw goes up and the rational side goes down. Once the emotional side decreases, the rational side of the see-saw goes up. If you look at the way a see-saw functions, you can never have both sides be completely up. The best that can happen is that the see-saw is balanced. However, that still does not allow for the logical and rational side to be functioning at an optimal level.
The Mediator’s Superpower
As a mediator, I make sure that everyone remains as calm as possible. This is important because we do not want the amygdala to hijack the mediation. Once people are upset or angry, they are no longer thinking rationally. Once they are no longer thinking rationally, their ability to negotiate is compromised. As a mediator, I have several tools that I use to help people remain calm. Mirroring is a great tool to use for this purpose. When someone is using active listening skills, they must use their rational brain. In order to mirror someone, you must actively listen. When you actively listen, your amygdala remains unengaged. Thus, your emotions remain calm.
The Rational Brain
It is important to remember that when you engage one part of the brain, another part can remain calm. By engaging in mirroring, mediation participants are keeping their amygdalas disengaged. Therefore, they can negotiate better. Since the entire process of negotiation requires the rational side of the brain, it is very important that the mediators help participants remain rational. If people are able to think through issues and various resolutions, they will be better able to get to a point of agreement.
If people understand clearly what anger does to their brain, they can employ strategies to keep themselves calm. As a mediator, I ask participants to mirror what they heard. In engaging in this activity, they are keeping their emotions from becoming too heightened. The only way to mirror someone accurately is to actively listen. One cannot actively listen if the emotions take control of one’s brain. The mediator has many strategies to keep parties cool and collected. So, what does a mediator do? Mediators ensure that everyone is heard and understood. Understanding can only take place if people remain calm. It is the magic of the mediator, which allows people to stay calm in mediation and get to a final resolution.