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Hazards of the Job: good listening and mental health

Monday, 5th January 2016

"To the extent that a mediator’s job involves listening to people complain and engage in negative behaviour, mediators face a serious mental health hazard.

Research shows that listening to ongoing negativity impairs the brain function of the listener. Yes! Listening can be bad for you if you have a whinging party in the room, and it’s even worse if you have two or more. 

Trevor Blake writes about this phenomenon in his book, Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life. While Blake is not specifically thinking about mediators, the potential implications for the mental health of mediation professionals is alarming. 

Apparently being exposed to too much complaining can have a dumbing down effect. Exposure to 30 minutes or more of complaining destroys neurons in the brain’s hippocampus – a part of the brain that is used in problem-solving and decision-making. In other words, our capacity for problem-solving decreases the more we are exposed to complaining and conflict. Yet, as mediators, our job is to listen to exactly this type of non-productive negative blah blah in order to support parties to make a shift towards positive problem-solving. Could it be that while we are enhancing their capacity for problem-solving, we are decreasing ours? What sort of impact could this potentially have on our mediation style and even our professional abilities over time?"

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Language: English
Contact: Nadja Alexander

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