‘Emotional Agility’ as a Workplace Mediator

emotional agility in workplace

Susan David, psychologist and author or the book ‘Emotional Agility’ states that organisations need to get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions in order to provide a psychologically safe workplace in which staff feel safe to bare their emotional truth. She believes that when leaders are comfortable with uncomfortable emotions, they are better equipped to listen to staff and explore the real drivers of the emotion to uncover mutually beneficial outcomes for both the staff member and the organisation.

I find this comment by David to be extremely relevant to Mediators who are seeking to assist participants using a transformative approach.

How can mediation participants be comfortable to participate in process that is seeking to evoke the reveal of a person’s truth and assist in self reflection if the Mediator does not provide a psychologically safe space in 1-1 and group discussions?

A psychologically safe space must be offered and maintained if a participant is going to be invited to and chooses to explore any underlying drivers to their thoughts and behaviours which may have contributed to the formation or perpetuation of conflict with another.

As a workplace Mediator, my experience has led me to develop the belief that sustainable and mutually beneficial agreements are formed when at least one (and preferably each) participant has been prepared to shift perspective and transform the views/beliefs/assumptions and subsequent internal narrative they had created and ‘held on to’ regarding the other and each ‘signpost’ event during the history of the conflict.

I agree that a Mediator, engaged to deliver an outcome which includes a transformed workplace relationship, must have ‘emotional agility’ to provide a psychologically safe mediation space. This provision is assisted by the Mediator feeling comfortable with the display or articulation of emotions by participants. I also contend that a workplace Mediator with a lack of ‘emotional agility’ is more likely to demonstrate less mastery of various skills by having an increased level of susceptibly to being negatively impacted via a conscious or unconscious belief they need to accept or take responsibility for relieving the discomfort expressed by a mediation participant or perceived by the Mediator to be present.

I believe it is the responsibility of every Mediator to get comfortable with their own uncomfortable emotions in order to develop ‘emotional agility’ – a skill that enables more sophisticated management of one’s feelings and thoughts.

I agree with David that ‘emotionally agile’ people have the skills and knowledge to be able to draw on a range of resources to thrive. David attributes the following descriptor to ‘emotionally agile’ people, ‘They are dynamic, demonstrate flexibility in dealing with complexity, can tolerate stress and overcome setbacks’. Hence it would seem that investment in the development of stress management strategies, resilience, emotional intelligence and other activities which contribute to wellbeing will also contribute to the development of one’s ‘emotional agility’.

Each of these activities can be a life long pursuit. How then can a Mediator encourage greater ‘emotional agility’ in mediation participants who we may only have interaction with over a few hours? If we consider that emotional reactions (and not logical responses) are more likely to have contributed to any miscommunication, misunderstanding, tensions and escalating levels of conflict then being able to influence (with integrity) at least one mediation participant to engage with more sophisticated management of their own feelings and thoughts should contribute to the participant being more ‘emotionally agile’.

Many strategies abound. I subscribe to the following view that once a participant can ‘shift’ from focusing on their perspective (driven by a possible range of emotions and a need for security or avoidance of fear) they are more likely to recognize their perspective as limited, be able to consider other or multiple perspectives and demonstrate empathy (which I prefer to label as ‘intellectual empathy’). I would identify this shift as occurring when the mediation participant continually reduces (then stops) the number of emotionally driven comments being made and increases the number of comments derived from their engagement with more conscious logical reasoning.

This process may be described as:

  • ‘Recognizing and accepting’ one’s emotions;
  • ‘Detaching’ from the emotion; and
  • ‘Deconstructing’ then ‘Rebuilding’ the situation to replace or constructively add to the original view held.

As a workplace Mediator, I view at least one more step as being required and that is:

  • ‘Devising’ a solution focused action plan to minimize the likelihood of a similar event occurring in the future while rebuilding trust with others who were involved in the initial situation.
    How we each develop our skills as a Mediator and ‘design’ a mediation process is a personal choice.

May I recommend some contemplation on the concept of ‘emotional agility’ and if it has a place in your mediation took kit and process design.

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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.