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Dr. Danielle Forshee, Psy.D., Published by the NJ Association of Professional Mediators

Dr. Danielle Forshee, Psy.D., was just published in the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators Spring 2017 newsletter. She provides information and advice on how divorce mediators can use specific communication techniques that pinpoint neurobiological mechanisms to help create trust. Full article below:

As mediators, possessing a foundational knowledge of preventing heightened emotional states during the divorce mediation process is parallel to the success of your practice. At a more comprehensive level, enhancing proficiency of the implicit communication of emotion and attitudes can strengthen your practice more than you could ever imagine. This brief article will discuss the impact of unspoken communication in relationships and its neurobiological components.

Psychologist Albert Mehrabian conducted research in the 1970’s that paved the way for much of what we know today regarding the influence of non-verbal communication. His research demonstrated that only 7% of what we communicate consists of the literal content of the message, while 38% is comprised of tone, volume and intonation (para-verbal), and 55% consists of our body language (Mehrabian,1981). Fast-forward a few decades; the advancement of neuroimaging technology has sky-rocketed, allowing researchers to paint a clearer portrait of the neural underpinnings and complexity of communication, emotion and human relationships.

Current literature reflects that non-verbal communication (body language & para-verbal) is deeply rooted in the brain (Rizzolatti, Fogassi & Gallese, 2001; Wolpert, Doya & Kowato, 2003; Carr, et. al., 2003; Schulte-Ruther, et. al., 2007). Thanks to the discovery of mirror neurons, our understanding of the impact of non-verbal communication in relationships and how to manage conflict has been transformed.

Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that responds equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the exact same action. The first study on human mirror neurons was conducted in the late 1990’s by neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolati. He recorded motor-evoked potentials (a signal that a muscle is ready to move) from participants’ hand muscles as the participants watched the experimenter grasp objects (Rizzolatti, Fogassi & Gallese, 2001). It was found that these potentials matched the potentials recorded when the participants actually grasped objects themselves.

There is increasing evidence from neuroimaging studies that the components of the human mirror neuron system (hMNS) comprises parts of the inferior frontal cortex and the posterior parietal cortex (Gallese, Keysers & Rizzolatti, 2004; Koski,, 2003; Lacoboni, et. al., 1999). These areas of the brain are responsible for human functions such as language; judgement; impulse control; initiation; motor functioning; problem solving; information processing; cognition; visual perception; touch sensation, and spatial orientation. Thus, our hMNS likely accounts for how people think and feel about their interactions and relationships with others.

During divorce mediation, the hMNS is activated from the moment they speak with you on the phone or meet you in person. Because of the hMNS, your clients intuitively know when you are being genuine toward them, if you are empathetic, and if they have been heard and understood. Empathy is a key factor in the hMNS, as empathy conveys trust, competence, comfort and understanding- three strong para-verbal indicators essential in bonding and human relationships. If you can effectively convey empathy and portray congruent relaxed body language during your mediation sessions, it is more likely that your clients will trust you. Once trust is established, your clients’ defenses are likely to decline; therefore, insulating the divorce mediation process from the occurrence of aggressive behavior. It is natural for your clients to pay more attention to the content of what is being said after you have gained their trust, so rapport building and patience is essential to this process. There are no shortcuts past the hMNS, so don’t even try.