As I wrote about last time, last week I had the pleasure of participating in a daylong Summer Institute program presented by the New England Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution (NE-ACR). We were treated to a rich day of skills building from StageCoach improv. Specifically, we were part of their Conflict Resolution Interactive Skills Program (CRISP), a customized “set of exercises and techniques employed by professional improvisational actors designed to enable professional mediators to optimally perform in the moment.”
The idea that much of our communication is done through tone of voice and body language, as opposed to mere words, is not new. Nor is the idea that miscommunication is a prime source of conflict. Professionals in conflict management (whether working early on, before the dispute has escalated, or late in the conflict when mediation is employed) frequently caution parties about the dangers of email, texts, and other written communications that don’t provide tone and body language.
The instructors from StageCoach improv cited a UCLA study by Psychology Professor Albert Mehrabian that drove this point home. Professor Mehrabian found that a paltry 7% of communication was conveyed by the words used themselves. Fully 38% of communication was contained in tone of voice and 55% in body language. As dispute resolution professionals, we were reminded that our own communication and the communication between the parties in a mediation are no different and that we ignore these facts at our peril!