Window into the MindListening to the other party in a mediation or negotiation is key to resolving the issues between you. Whatever your assumptions, biases or preconceptions may be, you need to push them aside and focus on what the other party is saying. You need to understand them, what their goals are and why.

By getting a good handle on their emotions you have a better chance at understanding them. Not only are the words used by the other party telling you their emotions, but the tools of language used will also help, according to research discussed in Science Daily.

Observing How Metaphors Are Used

Observing whether and how metaphors are used can help you become more aware of another person’s  emotional or mental states, reports Andrea Bowes and Albert Katz of the University of Ontario in Canada in an article in the journal Memory & Cognition. Researchers established that people could better infer others’ mental and emotional states after reading metaphors, whether they were part of passages or in isolation.

A metaphor is a phrase that states something is something else (Life is a box of chocolates.) as opposed to a simile which states something is like something else (Life is like a box of chocolates). It’s a common part of conversations as we attempt to better explain to others how we view things.

Understanding another person’s feelings or thoughts is called Theory of Mind by experts. Each person has their own level of aptitude for this and it’s often impaired in autistic populations.

  • One method to test Theory of Mind is by the Reading the Mind in the Eye Test (RMET). Participants try to identify the emotions or mental state displayed in black and white photos of 36 pairs of eyes.
  • Bowes and Katz showed that if study participants read metaphors they performed better on the RMET, compared to reading literal sentences.
  • Thirty-nine participants read metaphorical or literal sentences as part of a story, then were given an unexpected Theory of Mind test. Those who read metaphorical sentences were significantly better at identifying the correct emotions in the sets of pictures.
  • The evidence suggests that the mere act of reading metaphors activates embodied social experiences as part of the act of comprehension. This helps a person to be more sensitive to the mental states of others.
  • In another study speakers using metaphors with one another were seen as closer friends than those who did not use this figure of speech.

Metaphors may provide unique perspectives on the other party

The research shows that use of metaphors promotes our ability to identify the emotions or mental state of others. In your next negotiation or mediation, listen for metaphors from the other party and see them as a peek into his or her thoughts or emotions. Feel free to use some of your own, so the other party may get a better idea as to your frame of mind. It may set the stage for a better emotional connection between the two of you, which may help you resolve your differences.