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Mediation Techniques And The Science Of Interaction

Mediation Techniques And The Science Of Interaction

Mediators often wonder why more people don’t engage in mediation, after all 85% of all disputes coming to mediation tend to settle. The reason, according to Professor Liz Stokoe, lies in the way we describe mediation to parties. Liz is an expert in human interaction and has spent years analysing conversations at a micro level. One project Liz was involved with analysed the initial telephone conversations between self-referring parties and mediators; these were intake calls to a mediation service. Liz discovered that there were specific words and phrases that mediators consistently used that resulted in those parties disengaging from the mediation process. What was most illuminating about her research was that the words, phrases or conversational techniques used were common in all mediation practice, in fact it’s how we get taught to describe what mediation is and what mediation isn’t.

This video reveals the specific conversational techniques that you can use to increase the chances parties will engage in the mediation process. Watch the video to understand what turns parties off and how you can explain mediation to potential clients in a way that is far more positive and engaging.

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Transcript

Full Transcript

Liz Stokoe:
One of the reasons I think people feel entitled to come up and say, “What is it you actually do?” like that, is that we all talk and so we all think, “Why do we need someone who spends their life as a professor studying interaction when we all talk, we could all manage to get through our interactional lives, no problem, so why do we need someone who actually studies talk?

I’m going to come back to this issue at the end of this workshop but I think there’s a couple of things that that kind of objection to what it is that I do, two things that just frustrate me about it. One of them is that we think we know about talk and the kind of work that I do and colleagues that I do in conversation and analysers do upend the kinds of things that we think we know about talk.

We think we know what body language does. We tend to massively over-prioritise body language and the way … Its sort of contribution to interaction. We tend to think we know how to build a rapport. These sorts of things that we think we know about talk that turn out to be actually empirically sort of incorrect when we actually look at talk, are the sorts of myths about interaction that are also sorts of things that put up barriers to online interaction and online ODR and I think some of those things we’ve sort of already started to hear today, which is that if you’re doing something online then it’s lacking something. I want to sort of come back to this issue of online interaction and what it really is like as we move through the talk today.

What I’m going to do is four things. I’m going to do, first of all I’m going to give you a whistle stop answer to the question of: What is it you actually do … By sharing you some interaction and what I would do with it. Then I’m going to show you how you can move from studying interaction scientifically in a very ordinary, domestic kind of setting to showing mediators trying to engage clients and failing and showing how it is that you can pinpoint the moment at which a mediator who’s trying to pitch, if you like, what mediation is to a perspective client, what it is that they’re doing that is failing and how we can really nail that down.

The third thing I want to do is show how you can move from showing mediators failing to engage perspective clients in spoken encounters to thinking about the written messages that we might have on our websites and leaflets to try and engage people in mediation. Finally, I’m going to look at people interacting online. We’re talking a lot about online interaction and I guess unless we’re going to see this next, I’m going to personally, I’m actually going to show you people interacting online and then we can really think about how different is that. What are the challenges to things online?

To start off with then, I’m going to show you some people interacting and we’re going to start off with ordinary, domestic telephone calls. We’re going to see first of all two friends, Hyla and Nancy, they’re in America, they’re starting the opening five lines of a telephone conversation and it’s going to look very ordinary, very banal. It’s the kind of thing that you will have done hundreds of times yourself, maybe even today. What’s going to happen is, the transcript is going to come out line-by-line in sync with the audio and that’s going to enable you to live through the interaction as it happens, which is how we live through interaction. We never quite know what’s coming next.

Here comes Hyla and Nancy starting their telephone call.

Nancy:
Hello?

Hyla:
Hi.

Nancy:
Hi.

Hyla:
How are you?

Nancy:
Fine, how are you?

Liz Stokoe:
Okay. That’s it. One thing you’re going to notice about that is that the interaction kind of bounced along, sort of turn, turn, turn, turn, turn. There was very sort of smooth progress through these opening lines. It turns out that when you look at a large collection, a large data set of openings of ordinary domestic telephone calls, they tend to be structured like this. First of all you have a summons and an [acceptive 00:04:09] if you can see that behind the chair. The phone rings and someone answers it and then you have greetings and identification. You can see here that Nancy’s answering, “Hello …” was different to Nancy’s, “Hi …” at four which is doing recognition and I know who I’m talking to. Then we get initial inquiries, the “How are you’s?” How are you? Fine. How are you? Fine. What might happen next is, How are you? … the real business of the call.

These sort of opening three projects on an encounter are very robust and they tend to crop up in most encounters like this one. The fact that we seen these sorts of patterns in interaction allows us to see divergences as well. Now we’re going to scoot over the Atlantic to our side of the pond and see Dana and Gordon. Dana and Gordon are boyfriend and girlfriend, although perhaps not by the end of this telephone call. They’re students, they’re home for the holidays. Dana is phoning Gordon and before Dana’s even spoken we’re going to see that there’s something wrong. Okay, so here comes Dana and Gordon.

Gordon:
Hello?

Liz Stokoe:
Right. Now for me as a conversation analyst that’s all I need to know to know there is trouble ahead. Please still do feel free to come and talk to me later. Here we have Line three, seven-tenths of a second of silence. What’s interesting in a way is what’s not happening at Line three. What is not happening at Line three is the return greeting from Dana. Instead we have seven-tenths of a second of silence and that’s enough to know there’s trouble ahead. This is where studying interaction scientifically starts to perhaps make you think there’s some power to this because if we can really zoom in on an interaction and we transcribe it sort of technically like this we can find stuff out. Let’s see what happens next.

Dana:
Hello.

Liz Stokoe:
So there’s Dana’s “Hello” return greeting but it’s delayed. What’s going to happen now is that she’s not going to move into the ‘how are you’ she’s going to do something else. She’s going to ask this question:

Dana:
Where have you been all morning?

Liz Stokoe:
Where have you been all morning? Now, this is not an innocent information-seeking question, it’s a complaint. If you didn’t recognise that you might need some advice from me later. Where have you been all morning? I’m your girlfriend, I’m entitled to know where you’ve been all morning. I’ve been trying to get you all morning. Now, what can you do in response to this? I call this, just as an aside, I call this kind of turn a ‘first move’. There are people who come up to me and say, “What is it you actually do?” They’re first movers. It’s like, what do you do to that? You either make it their challenge explicit in your response to them and you sort of say, “What are you asking me that for? That’s very rude.” They’d probably be like, “Oh, no I was just asking a question. You’re very touchy.” Suddenly they’re the victim of your overbearing response rather than them being the producer of the overbearing first move. Anyway, we all know people like this.

I can also give you tips about how to handle a first mover and stop yourself being one later as well if you like. Anyway, here’s Dana first-moving. What can you do in response to that? Gordon could start to answer the question or sort of say, “What do you mean? I don’t have to tell you where I am all the time.” Instead he says this:

Gordon:
Hello.

Liz Stokoe:
What Gordon’s trying to do is basically just re-establish what routinely happens at the start of calls. I’ll just do what is expected here, which is the Nancy style, “Hi. I’m pleased to hear from you and I’m not quite sure where this is going.” Then what’s going to happen is he’s going to add a little bit.

Gordon:
Uhm …

Liz Stokoe:
Uhm. We … Again, the details are so gorgeous. We tend to see these little ‘uhms’, moments in interaction where what came prior was in apposite in some way, not expected at this point in the interaction. Gordon is now going to answer the question but not before he is pushed back against her first move, slightly aggressive question, marked it as inapposite at this point and now he’ll answer the question:

Gordon:
I’ve been at a music workshop.

Liz Stokoe:
Now what he’s going to try and do is move on to initial inquiry, so move into the next thing that happens in the encounter by asking the question:

Gordon:
How are you?

Liz Stokoe:
If Dana was now fine, that she’s now had a satisfactory answer to the question and she’s now thinking Gordon’s okay again, we would see that reveal itself in Line Eight because then what would happen at Line Eight is that we would get the, “Fine. How are you?” We’d be back on track. Instead we get some silence, so again we know there’s further trouble and Gordon’s not out of the water yet. Then she says:

Gordon:
I’m okay.

Liz Stokoe:
“I’m okay …” which is not fine. Okay is not fine, but also she doesn’t say, “I’m okay, how are you?” She doesn’t move it into the next sort of reciprocal initial inquiries either. Now Gordon can really hear that Dana is not okay, that he perhaps ought to be pursuing from her what’s the matter. Instead he’s going to push back again and say:

Gordon:
Good.

Liz Stokoe:
What I want you to try and see here is that we have two encounters. I want to invite you to think about the encounters that you have with people as being like a racetrack with a landscape and a distinct kind of architecture to them. We start at the beginning of an encounter with our recipient or recipients and along the way we complete projects of various kinds as we’ve just seen Hyla and Nancy and Dana and Gordon doing. If you think about the encounters that you have with clients or with your partner or with your kids or at the checkout in the supermarket or on a first date or with the doctor, all of those things have a landscape to them with projects that you complete along the way. There are different sorts of projects. There are greetings and partings and questions and offers and complaints and flirts and story tellings and assessments and so on.

What you could see with Hyla and Nancy was that they were moving around their racetrack smoothly. We could see that they were just sort of bounce, bounce, bouncing along whereas Dana and Gordon were on the rumble strips. They were kind of bouncing along the rumble strips at the side of the road and not really sort of getting on to move smoothly around that encounter together.

This is the kind of thing that I spend my life looking at. What we do as conversational analysts is collect hundreds of encounters of the same type and then we transcribe them and transcribe them in a lot of forensic detail with a lot of linguistic and phonetic information and then look at the entire landscape of the encounter and try to identify all the constituent things that comprise that complete encounter.

I’ve studied lots of different racetracks so I’ve studied doctor-patient interaction. I’ve looked at a lot of police interrogations for suspects. I’ve looked at people on first dates. I’ve looked at classroom interaction. I’ve also done a lot of work on mediation, particularly looking at telephone calls of people phoning up a mediation service and becoming or not becoming the client at the end of that first encounter. I’m going to just show you one example of one bit of zooming back out again if you like and thinking about the landscape of an initial inquiry between someone phoning up a mediation service and speaking to a mediator. One of the things we can do is zoom in on the moment at which the mediator starts to explain what mediation is.

This is a project that happens on that race track. It’s a challenge. It’s a real issue to try and sell mediation to somebody who, first of all when you look up these initial inquiries, and I’ve looked at hundreds to both community and family mediation, first of all, what happens is you don’t typically get people phoning up like they do to a GP surgery and saying, “I’d like to make an appointment with a mediator, please.” It’s much more likely that they say, “I’ve just been given this number by somewhere else.” That somewhere else they see as relevant to solving their particular problem. The somewhere else could be a lawyer, the police, the counsel, the housing. What all of those other places have in common is that they are able to provide partial advocacy in some kind of way. What people want when they’re in a dispute is to be told that they’re right, to have someone on their side saying, “You’re lovely, they’re vile. We will do things to constrain the behaviour of the other party.”

You can already start to see then, if somebody is phoning up a service they don’t know what it is ’cause they didn’t go to it first. They want someone to be on their side, as revealed in where they tell you they’ve called first. They’re right and the other party is wrong. That’s going to start to be a bit of a sell, hard sell, for a mediation service who is explicitly offering something rather different. How do you do that? If you don’t manage to convert callers to the service into clients of your service then you don’t have a service and you don’t have a job. It’s important to look at what works in terms of getting people to say ‘yes’ to mediate in that first encounter.

Thinking about the overall race track and zooming in on the explanations, mediators tend to explain what mediation is in one of two ways: There are two broad ways of doing it. It’s really nice when there are two ways of doing ’cause then you can really sort of nail down one of them as working and one of them as not working. Here’s one of way in which mediators very typically explain mediation. Here comes the mediator. I’ve anonymised the voice so it’ll sound a little odd.

Mediator:
What we do as a mediation service, we help people sort out their own differences so we wouldn’t take sides, we wouldn’t try and decide who’s right or wrong but would try to help you both sort out the differences between you.

Liz Stokoe:
Okay. Here’s a very typical looking explanation of mediation. One has to assume that people explain mediation in a way they think is going to be productive. We assume that this person is explaining mediation in this way because they think it works, otherwise why do it. It turns out that loads and loads of mediators have elements of this explanation in their explanations of mediation. Now, if this was working, if you think back to Dana and Gordon, if we could tell after seven-tenths of a second of delay that there was going to be a problem between Dana and Gordon, before Dana had even spoken, then let’s see what happens at Line Seven because if we think that there’s going to be engagement at this point, if we think it’s going down well then at Line Seven we should see that engagement, we should see … “That sounds great. Book me in. Tell me more …”, something like that. Instead, this is what happens:

Okay, so two and a half seconds. We already know we don’t almost need to see what happens next but we know that what’s going to happen next is not a ‘book me in immediately’ type of response and instead we’re going to get this:

Gordon:
Well,

Liz Stokoe:
Okay. This is the most common way for clients to not become clients, in fact. To say they’re the kind of person who won’t. This is absolutely fitted to where the caller is coming from which is, I’m lovely, they’re horrible. You’ve just offered me a two-sided kind of approach to mediation and I’m going to get out of it by saying they’re the kind of person who won’t do it. This explanation is what I would call a kind of philosophical, ideological sort of explanation. It’s an explanation of mediation for mediators. It says what their ethos is. It’s we don’t take sides. We don’t try and decide who’s right or wrong. We help people sort out their own differences.

Why is this going to be attractive to someone if they’re paying? I want you to sort out my differences. If they want someone to be on their side, I don’t want to hear that you’re not on my side. You can sort of see when you start to think about where the caller is and the place that they’re at why this is not going to be attractive as a service for somebody to take up.

There’s another way of explaining mediation which is much more effective. I’m going to leave that dangling, you can come and ask me about it. Also, there’s a magic bullet in one word that handles, they’re the kind of person who won’t. It’s one word. It’s magic. It works every time. I’m not going to tell you that either, you can come and ask me about it later. You need to know your racetrack. This mediator doesn’t know their racetrack. They don’t know that this explanation that they kind of use every time is not getting clients. They’re not prepared for the ‘they’re the kind of person who won’t’, which crops up in almost all encounters at some point. How do you get over that? There is a way to do it.

This is what conversation analysis can pin down. We can zoom in on racetracks. We can look at how offers are made, how requests are done, how questions are designed. The data provides us with the basis for little natural experiments because we can see the outcome, the effectiveness of any given question design, explanation of a service, in the response it generates in the recipient. The evidence is right there, it’s in the next turn.

Given that we now can see that this type of explanation doesn’t work to attract people into mediation, we can take that information, that empirical finding, to other contexts. We can now start to think about, okay, this is now somebody on the phone. To get them onto the phone in the first place they might look at our website and what description of mediation are they going to see on our website? Is it going to have the same pitfalls that we know now because we have discovered them by doing this research. Here’s an example of an explanation of mediation which is online now. Of course, what we want if you like in our website is we want to kind of preempt what we know might be objections to mediate. We want to sort of smooth out the racetrack rather than construct hurdles along it that make it rather difficult for us to proceed smoothly.

This perhaps is not doing that. Here’s an explanation of mediation which is online now on a mediation services website. “Mediation can work well if both parties engage in the process with the right ethos and they’re committed to wanting to resolve the issue.” Is that going to work? Presumably people have spent time, possibly money, possibly consultants, possibly market research or something like that to get their website right, but we now know by looking at initial inquiry calls that this is highly unlikely to be working because first of all you’re setting up conditions: “It can work well if …”, so only in these circumstances, so the grammar is kind of wrong. If both parties engage in the process with the right ethos, I mean ethos isn’t super jargon-y but it’s a bit jargon-y. It’s got that kind of, “This is our philosophy. This is the way we work.”

People don’t know what mediation is, that’s obvious from my research. They don’t necessarily want this both parties thing. What is the most likely sort of response to that, given what we know from the telephone calls? Is it going to be, “Yeah, I think my absolutely vile neighbor/partner/colleague, is going to engage in the process with the right ethos, they’re that kind of person. Yeah. Hello mediation, book me in.” Is the most likely response going to be, “I don’t think she’d cooperate.” It’s probably going to be that one. We can start to translate what we find when we study racetracks, interaction racetracks, the spoken encounter, to our written messages or our written leaflets and so on.

I could say a lot more about leaflets. If you use stock images on the front of your leaflet, imagine your leaflet if you’ve got one, your website. If you’ve got an image of people doing this: Uh … which is very common on mediation sort of websites or looking cross, you might want to get rid of them. Having done lots of this kind of work, the MOJ phoned up and said, “We’ve got a family mediation video and we think we might like your input on it.” We changed the MOJ family mediation prezi to something a bit different. I won’t linger on this one for too long either but the MOJ originally had obviously spent time, money, effort on producing an enticing marketing tool for family mediators with lots of messages like: “Mediators don’t take sides.” We know that doesn’t work. “Mediation can help …” rather than, “Mediation works because …” then things like, “It’s up to you to make things work.” Why is that going to be attractive to someone who’s paying for a service?

Things like, “Does mediation give me a divorce?” No, blah, blah, blah. “Is mediation legally binding?” I probably want that, that’s why I’m asking the question. No, blah, blah, blah. “Does mediation do …” No. “Does …” No. It was full of, “Is mediation this thing that probably is what I want?” No, it isn’t. There were all these kind of negative explanations of mediation. Things like, “In the long run it can be cheaper than going to court …” which makes it sound like, “In the long run …” crikey it sounds like a long process. It’s also probably going to be more expensive than going to court. It was full of the wrong grammar, the wrong messages and so on.

Working with some designers and IT people we changed the prezi and now it has not entirely everything that I wanted, ’cause it has to go through legal so we weren’t allowed to say, “Mediation is cheaper than going to court.” We weren’t allowed to say that. We were allowed to change it to things like, “Mediation is cheaper than going through …” ’cause I wanted to get rid of ‘go to a service’ we wanted it to be going through something, which sounds more arduous, a long, drawn-out court battle or something like that.

Some of the messages were slightly compromised by lawyers, but anyway we got somewhere which I think is just much more effective. You can go and have a look at the new MOJ prezi and see what at least is my best research evidence for messages that are going to work to get people into mediation.

I think the most important thing, ’cause I talk to mediators a lot, I go around doing workshops based on these sorts of materials, is to really stop thinking like a mediator for a bit, to be an alien in your own world and start to really think about what it is that people want when they phone up for mediation and starting with basically, probably they don’t want you. They don’t want a two-sided, explicitly impartial approach to something when they are absolutely psychologically in a dispute situation. What they want is to feel like they’re in a process with an expert who will help/actually decide things and say what is working and right and what is not working and is wrong.

That’s the big challenge to sort of think, “Where are the people?” One of the things that often happens in those initial inquiry calls, for example, is that mediators will ask people on the phone, “Have you tried speaking to your neighbour about it?” That question is really dangerous because the answer to that question can only be, “Yes, and it failed …” or, “No, because I don’t want to speak to that person.” It can’t be, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that. That’s very useful, thanks very much …” because otherwise why are they phoning up?

One of the other problems for sort of mediation and mediation-type services is that what they’re going to offer is a talk-based solution to somebody who will tell you they’ve tried talking and it’s failed. If you think about, again if I think about the landscape and the overall racetrack, what happens is that mediators will ask the question, “Have you tried speaking to your neighbour?” This generates a very strong response about why it is that they don’t want to talk to the other party and then mediators move on to explain mediation and you can just see the crash happening, the end of the race is nigh because mediators don’t know their racetrack. They don’t know that that’s a really dangerous question to ask. It opens up a slot for callers to say, “I don’t want to talk to the other party.”

Then they’ve created something. They’ve created a hurdle for themselves on the racetrack which they’re going to have to overcome and you just don’t want that. What you really want to do is think about your racetrack and what’s on it. Think about the separate projects that are sort of on the way to getting this person to say ‘yes’ and then optimise each one of them. Get the explanation right. Get the questions right. Get the empathy right. Get the transitions from one thing to the next right.

I’m going to finish by talking a little bit about interaction and participation. I’d originally called this bit “Online Versus Face-to-Face” but that sets up a dichotomy that I think is one of the barriers to ODR, and that is that people think, as I said, they think they know about talk, “What is it you actually do?” They think they know about talk so they think they know what is likely to happen if you’re online with somebody and online doesn’t do this and it does do that and the telephone does this and it doesn’t do that. If you’re communicating solely in gestures then that does something and it doesn’t do something else. We think we know about talk.

We also think that face-to-face is somehow primordial and everything else is lesser than, but we’re a long way from that. We know how to interact in loads of different modes. We know how to phone up double glazing sales and we know that we need to do something a bit different to when we phone the doctors from when we talk to our pare- … They’re all on the phone but they’re all different and humans are really good at basically building actions in lots of different types of settings.

Just to remind us about Dana and Gordon and Nancy and Hyla here and the basic sort of opening structures here of these are telephone calls, someone’s answered and greetings identification, initial inquiries. I’m going to show you first of all a Skype chat with my dad. This is my dad. I said, “Do you want to be in on the [inaudible 00:27:12] Dad, in the talk that I’m going to present?” He said, “That’s fine.” This is just the opening moments of me and dad Skyping when I came back from a trip earlier this week.

First of all, there is one thing that’s going to be different about something like Skype and that is that the summons and the answer is a little bit different except that, of course, you still do have a ring and you still do have an answer, but you know who’s on the other end. If you think about a mobile telephone call, the identification thing might be done already for you. Of course, there are differences in different sorts of modes of communication, modes of interaction, but remarkably the projects that we do along the racetrack are really rather similar. Here’s dad and I Skyping.

Dad:
Hi Liz, how are you?

Liz Stokoe:
I’m fine, thanks. How are you?

Dad:
Yeah, it sounds like you had a fantastic time.

Liz Stokoe:
Okay, my dad’s from Sunderland you can probably hear the accent. So, “Hi Liz, how are you?” “I’m fine thanks, how are you?” “Yeah, it sounds like you had a fantastic time.” We have the same things happening again. We have the greetings, the identification. We have the ‘how are you’s: Fine, how are you? Fine. Dad and I are going along quite Hyla and Nancy style. We’re happy. We haven’t talked for a while so we’re happy to talk. There’s nothing special going on. We’re on Skype, yes, but there’s nothing special going on. It’s just interaction. We can see each other. We might not be able to see each other on the phone. I suppose what I want to say is, it’s utterly banal. We don’t want to start creating boundaries and barriers to things like online communication because we have all these ideas about how different it is. Just look how ordinary it is. Something else that’s really ordinary.

This is data from a PhD student of mine who she finished her PhD last year and she did it all on instant messaging on Facebook, Facebook chat. The whole thesis was basically about the similarities and differences on Facebook chat to spoken encounters. Yes, there are differences but there’s an awful lot of remarkable similarity. One of the differences is that when you’re talking you can’t edit it, delete it, and then let the recipient only hear the thing that you ended up with. If you start to make a mess of something you can’t … It’s out there. If you start a turn, start it and then move somewhere else you can’t delete the first bit.

Now, of course, you can when you’re typing. One of my favourite bits of her thesis was looking at the way people type kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss … Delete two. A minute goes by, another one’s added. Another minute, delete them all. Send all, or send five. The calibration and recalibration of kisses is actually rather fascinating and, of course, quite different from social interaction. If you’re meeting somebody and you go in for the double sort of cheek thing or you might get that bit of a mistake, you want to delete it and repair it. It’s kind of out there, you already made the mistake with the double kiss cheek thing or whatever. If you’re going for more of a passionate kind of kiss you can’t take that back, it’s kind of out there already. You can do that online.

Anyway, the remarkable similarity of online messaging, so here’s the start, you can probably just about see it, it’s not particularly high-res video, but here’s people typing on Facebook. So you’ve got, “Hey Myra, how are you? Hey you.” “I’m not too bad, thanks. You?” Again, it’s what … It’s very commonly there at the start of a Facebook chat. She did have Facebook chats that started with things like, “Fish ate my feet.” That was the opening kind of line, but quickly you would still get into the, “How are you’s?” You would still have this rather robust way of opening an interaction.

Here’s another one: So we’ve got the summons and the answer. Of course, the summons and the answer is a bit different as well because if you like the summons, the sort of equivalent to the phone ringing, is the message popping up so you already know who it is, a bit like Skype. The identification stuff is different. In terms of what it is that people are actually doing, which is greeting one another, doing the initial inquiries, it’s so similar.

Here’s another one: “Hey you.” “Well hello there. How are you?” “I’m good. Thanks. You?” Again, it’s just so ordinary, so gorgeous and so similar to face-to-face and telephone and mobile phone chat and people greeting each other in sign language. ‘Cause at the end of the day, we just want to get projects done.

Okay, so let me sum up. I sort of said when I was getting slightly thrown at the start of my talk about these speakers that people ask me this question: “What is it you actually do?” Feeling entitled to ask that question because they think we all know about talk, so what’s there to know? Yes, we all talk and what I do is identify people doing talk stuff really well and turn that into training as well as looking at people doing talk stuff not so well and sort of showing that as well in training. What we’re not very good at is talking about talk. I said that there was one magic bullet word that got people to say, “Yes …” even when it looked like the person was looking like they were going to say ‘no’ to mediation.

You probably can’t intuit that even though some of you might use that word, but you can’t think back and know that that worked, that’s why you need conversation analysts to zoom in and find out what it was that worked. That’s one thing. We all talk but you do need scientists to look at what it is that’s actually working. Don’t let stereotypical notions of language put up barriers to ODR. People think they know about body language. I’m constantly asked things like, “But isn’t communication 90% body language?” No. If it was we wouldn’t need any foreign languages. Of course it isn’t 90%. Rubbish. Where does these things come from?

They’re very sort of there beneath the very powerful kinds of things that make us think we know about body language, we know what builds rapport, we know what silence does, we know what all these things do. We know women and men talk differently, don’t we … and loads of other things like that. We have, I think, equally stereotypical notions of what, therefore, is happening online. “Online talk is limited in this way, isn’t it? It doesn’t do this, does it?” Well, it’s different but, as you can see, people just want to get stuff done and they tend to want to get the same sorts of things done.

This is ’cause human interaction is for building action regarding but regardless of setting a mode. What I mean by that is, we all have language and it’s built for getting stuff done. It’s how we live our lives, how we get through the day. The machinery of our lives is sort of churning out our relationships and fixing them and breaking them and living them and repairing them and so on. Human interaction is for action and sometimes, of course, we are regarding the particular mode and setting that we’re in, but it’s also regardless of that. We just want to get stuff done. We have projects to get through and that’s what we do.

My final word is: Just know your racetracks and try not to build straw arguments about … “But talk’s like this, isn’t it?” Most often, very often, you’ll be wrong. Thank you.

About the mediator

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Liz graduated from University of Central Lancashire (Preston Poly) in 1993 with a traditional psychology degree. She then completed three years PhD research at Northampton University (then Nene College) with Dr Eunice Fisher. Liz videoed interaction in university tutorials, and conducted conversation analyses of topic production, topic management, academic identity, and the relevance of gender. She developed these and other interests whilst worki... View Mediator

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