PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack
Thanks to the pandemic, it seems that everyone is engaging in a lot more asynchronous communication than ever before. Or, is it simply that those older than the millennials are catching up to what the millennials have been doing all along: texting their way through the day?
A recent blog post on the Harvard Pons website examines the difficulty of texting as a means of resolving a hostage situation. Entitled “Negotiation Examples: How Crisis Negotiators Use Text Messaging” by Katie Shonk (September 7, 2020), the article comments that as recently as six years ago, trainers in hostage negotiations were not teaching texting as a tool to be used in negotiating with hostage takers. One cannot engage in “emotional labeling” or affect labeling via text (ex. “You sound angry.”). (Id.)
But suddenly these trainers found that the hostage takers were millennials- those born between the late 1970’s and early 1990’s- who immediately started using texting to convey their demands. So, the trainers changed their training strategies to suggest that when the hostage taker starts texting demands, the goal of the negotiator should be to convince the hostage taker to put down the texting application and use the telephone application instead. That is, to stop texting and start conversing by telephone.
As one can imagine, while it is difficult to negotiate by e mail, it is even more difficult to do so by text. Both e mailing and texting are asynchronous or one-sided communication. And texting is usually a much shorter cryptic message. As words make up only 7% of our communication with body language and tone making up the remaining 93%, a lot gets lost in the simple reading of words in an email or a text. (Id.)
So, perhaps in our real life everyday situations, we should all take a cue from hostage negotiators; if someone wants to resolve a dispute using texting or email, our goal should be to convince that person to pick up the phone, or even better yet, agree to some form of video conferencing so that we can not only hear the words, but hear the tone and watch the body language as well. Synchronous communication allows each party to more accurately and effectively read and understand both the verbal and non- verbal cues of the other so that the points raised will not “get lost in translation” and instead lead to a resolution.
…Just something to think about.
Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides. When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.