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#MediationQuickTips: We can’t think rationally if we are emotional!

Mediation Quick Tips

Welcome to this ‘Mediation Quick Tips’ Newsletter Issue 2

In this article I want to focus on how the emotions that surface for us when our brain is absorbing information affect our cognitive thinking and therefore inhibit our mediation participants, and our own ability to think clearly. This article follows on from Issue 1 where I wrote about how the amount and type of data our brain absorbs causes a serious deficit and distortion in our information intake.

 It is divided into three sections:

  1. Mediation Quick Tips
  2. Theory behind the Quick Tips
  3. How to apply this theory to practice

Next online advanced mediation course:
1, 2, 8, 9, February 2024
1.30pm – 5.30pm – Irish Standard Time / Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)

1. Mediation Quick Tips

Mediation participants can’t think rationally if they are emotional!

There is no point in asking a mediation participant who seems to be in an emotional state to work out solutions to their conflict. While they are in this state, we need to support them to process their emotions until the oxygen and glucose which was diverted to their amygdala, as a result of a threat or a perceived threat, returns to their frontal brain and allows them to think cognitively.  

This process entails giving them space to put their feelings into words by:

  • Reflecting back what they said, tentatively, gently and succinctly with a questioning rather than a conclusive tone of voice. Reframe toxic words, but don’t dilute the truth.
  • Asking simple questions about what they are saying

The theory behind this mediation tip and how to put the theory into practice are in sections 2 and 3 below.

2. Theory behind Mediation Quick Tips

In the first Issue of this Newsletter, I wrote about how our brain only absorbs 40 ‘bits’ of information per second out of the 11 million ‘bits’ available to us during that same time span and how the type of information that our brain does absorb is dependent on our experiences, values and beliefs.

Perception illusion

But our perception of an event, and the amount and type of information that we absorb, is also influenced by the emotions that surface for us at the time that our brain absorbs information.  This results in us all having our own unique perspective through which we view the world and our conflicts with others.

Our amygdala, which is located in our mid-brain is our threat detector and in order to protect and prepare us it tends to identify and absorb negative information before positive information.

Additionally, when there are gaps in our information intake, we humans fill those information gaps with guesses that are based on our beliefs and fears.


When an event happens that triggers something in us that informs us that the other person’ s beliefs, assumptions, needs or interests are incompatible with ours, this may trigger a fearful response in us.

Amygdala glucose

When a negative social stimulus that results in us feeling threatened is received, the first assessment of this stimulus is done by the amygdala. When the amygdala is activated this draws resources of oxygen and glucose from the frontal brain which is then left without the necessary resources for us to perform cognitive thinking and function effectively at a rational level. 

This is called an amygdala hijack:

Amygdala Panic

As a result, our capacity to think clearly is inhibited until our sense of threat has subsided. In mediation processing those emotions that will inhibit a mediation participant’s sense of threat is achieved by listening to them and asking gentle questions to stay with the thought track of the mediation participant

 The benefits of putting feelings into words has been researched through brain image studies by psychologists in U.C.L.A. This research has revealed why verbalizing our feelings makes our sadness, anger and pain less intense. The studies illustrate how affect labelling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli.

The link is at the end of this article

 This theory in this section 2 will form the basis of much of what I will write in future articles.


3. How to apply this theory to practice?

In conclusion, we are working within the context of a massive amount of information deficit and distortion as well as in a context where the emotions of parties may determine how they communicate and how they may respond to the mediator and to the other mediation participant.

If a mediation participant feels threatened by a question this may activate a threat response from them that could influence their capacity to think cognitively and could impact their subsequent contribution to the mediation process.  Therefore, we need to know and respect the work of our precious amygdala! 


  • Listen intently to the words used by the mediation participant.
  • Work with the thoughts inside their head, rather than with the thoughts inside your own head.
  • Reflect back what they said, tentatively, gently and succinctly with a questioning rather than a conclusive tone of voice. Reframe toxic words, but don’t dilute the truth.

       ‘I can see you seem (angry/frustrated/disappointed) about (what has happened)???

  • Ask simple questions so they stay on their thought track.


      Ask simple questions to help them process their thoughts about what they are feeling:

      “Tell me a little more?”

      “And then …?

      “What else…?”

Or add whatever questions you think are appropriate to keep a mediation participant on their thought track so they develop their thinking about the issue.  If you would like to add further questions, please do so in the comments section to support the continued learning of us all.

The goal of this intervention is that the mediation participant will process their emotions and return to cognitive thinking. So, it is important that you stay ‘in the moment’ with them to support them to stay on their thought track.

Only continue this process and go deeper to explore their underlying needs and interests after both participants have gone through the narrative stage of the mediation process. Always go to this deeper level with the person who made the compliant first, if it is appropriate to go to a deeper level to create mutual understanding.

Use your own discretion as to whether you go through this process in separate or joint meetings. I always check them out at separate meetings first so that I can then ascertain if it would be safe to ask these questions at a joint session.

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Next online advanced mediation course:
1, 2, 8, 9, February 2024
1.30pm – 5.30pm – Irish Standard Time / Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)

Link: ‘Putting Feelings into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects In The Brain’:’