Persuading others using fear appeals
Persuasion is the process of changing minds. Persuasion is an everyday part of human discourse. It is used by salesmen, parents, teachers, and many others – basically all of us. Persuasion in mediation is a two-way street. Long before you try to influence another to moderate their demands or consider the other side’s point of view, chances are good that they will have tried to convince you to their position.
It’s my experience in order to be an effective mediator, I must engage in various forms of persuasion. I do not engage in coercive or manipulative persuasion practices by which pressure brought to bear on reluctant participants to get a settlement. I do use a range of potential mediator interventions to help the parties resolve deeply held or competitively bargained differences. *
Persuade Using Fear Appeals
Being human, we all have fears. Fear of snakes, spiders, public speaking, etc. We have fears that no one likes us, or will accept us. These are not the fears that I use in a mediation to settle a conflict. Often we do have a fear of the future. What I do is to persuade by fear of the consequences of not settling. I describe in detail the threat and consequences of inaction at the mediation session. I also give each party reasonable assurance the threat can be averted through their conduct taken in mediation.
There is plenty to fear in not resolving a dispute in mediation. There is the financial cost of further endless litigation. There is the loss of time spent in litigation and just sitting around in court waiting.
There is a real fear in most people of having to testify in open court. Once in mediation, one party was shocked to learn that the opposition attorney would grill her and paint her as a liar ruining her reputation. There is also the loss of choice. And there is the fear of loss of control.
How it works
This is a form of direct persuasion. It works best when the threat is described in detail and there is guidance on the actions to be taken to avoid it.
Appeals that generate the most fear can be the most effective, so long as they convey both serious problems and strong feasible solutions.
Why they work
This process triggers thoughtful appraisal instead of mere emotion, which can neutralize defensive avoidance mechanisms. It neutralizes defensive tendencies such as anger, overconfidence or denial that may be getting in the way of logical thought. It also triggers thinking both about the threat and the subject’s ability to avert it
*Stark, James H. and Frenkel, Douglas N., Changing Minds: The Work of Mediators and Empirical Studies of Persuasion (2013). Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Vol. 28, No. 2, Pg. 263, 2013; U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-07
**Why the picture of Cross Country runners? It takes a lot of persuasion to get them to the finish line.
About the Author: Ken Strongman (www.kpstrongman.com) has years of experience and a growing national reputation as a mediator and arbitrator. He has successfully resolved more than a thousand disputes in the fields of construction defects, real estate, intellectual property, and employment. He is also a Mediator and Arbitrator for FINRA.
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