- 2.7

Working with emotions

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Ensuring that emotions are acknowledged and managed well

Solutions summary

Practice shows that emotions are very important. Fear, anger, sadness and feeling happy are the most important ones. Emotions are signals of needs, wishes and fears. So they give access to what is really important to people (interests).  Anger, fear or disgust can also be a problem. This tool outlines how facilitators can work with emotions:  Allow emotions
  • Allow parties to express their emotions.  
  • Show you notice emotions. Make clear that people are allowed to feel what they feel. 
  • You can tell parties:  “It is ok to be upset and cry”, “Try and let it out as much as possible now, so that we can work together on finding a solution that makes you feel better”
  • After making this clear, it can be necessary to talk about the way emotions are expressed. It is ok to feel angry and to show this, but not to frighten the other party. "Please sit down. Please do not raise your voice too much, but I would like to hear what makes you so angry."  
  • Do not push the parties if they are not comfortable to talk about their emotions. You can meet them separately to talk about this or try again next time
Recognise emotions
  • Emotions are expressed in many ways. Look behind what people say. The tone. Their face. 
  • Asking about or mentioning the emotion helps. ' Acknowledge the emotions by saying something such as “I can see you are very angry/sad/upset”. 
  • This can help the emotional party to calm down. When emotions and the issues behind them are talked about, they will have less intensity. It also gives information about what really matters.  
  • Ask each party how they would feel if they were in the other party’s position. It can be very effective if the other party says he understands the emotions.
  • Allowing space (silence) for reflection.
  • Invite supportive people into the process. They can support a more constructive emotional atmosphere
Find out more about emotions
  • Find out exactly what is behind the emotion. People in a conflict have mixed feelings, which they find hard to understand themselves. Many emotions are not simple, pure emotions, but made up of several different emotions (for example anger triggered by a combination of fear, frustration, confusion etc.). Finding out the cause will help to separate these out so that they can be addressed
  • Then try to look which interest is behind it: 'I see you are angry. What makes you angry? ... So you need .... (reframe into interest). 
  • Asking ‘why’ may not work, because it can invite thinking in rational, controlled way ("why am I crying whereas I should not cry"). You want to explore what causes the strong feeling (the emotion). 
  • Ask  the emotional party what the causes of the emotion are. Ask questions like “What makes you feel so angry/sad/upset?”
  • Explore the underlying needs. This will allow the needs to be brought into the open so that they can be taken into account
  • Here are two tools that can help you to support parties to understand and talk about their emotions (CORD TOOLS)
Regulating emotions if they dominate the process
  • Influence the letting go of negative emotions by selecting a time (i.e. festivities) for the meeting that has particular significance.
  • When emotions dominate a meeting, and it does not help to ask more about them, you can try to break the tension:
    • Tell a short joke, or change the discussion to defuse the situation (see Tool 2.8).
    • Take a break for tea or coffee
    • Have a Caucus session to find out more about the problem (Tool 1.4).
    • If the parties do not feel comfortable suggest a break in the facilitation and to start again on another day. Give the parties time to calm down and relax. They might go home and return when they feel better. It may work to ask them to think about an issue. And come back with an answer to that question on a fixed date.
These questions can be helpful:  Asking about Emotions Asking about Desired Outcomes

Local solution: Conference Commnents

Value: Where emotions are recognized they will have less intensity. Helpful for parties to see/ hear the emotion of others. Invite key people into the process who can support a more constructive emotional atmosphere. Selecting timing (festives) that have emotion significance. Allowing space (silence) for reflection. Look for emotion clues (not always verbal) + to recognize + address. Back up mediator to support with emotion support.Mediators should not be pushy.
Why do you think you feel so angry /sad/ upset?
Allow them to cry out: Don’t try to stop the crying (flow of emotions).
Suggest a break in the facilitation. Short joke.
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Local solution: Understanding and Expressing Anger

1. Anger is a difficult emotion to express because it is not a pure emotion, but rather a combination of many emotions such as fear, frustration, confusion, or disappointment. When we experience these emotions simultaneously, we often find it difficult to understand and express ourselves in constructive ways. 2. Anger usually involves some judgment (or conclusion), and often times can result in destructive communication. If we can be aware of the judgments causing anger we can see where we are blaming others for our feelings instead of taking responsibility for them. 3. Thoughts that often accompany anger include “should,” “right / wrong,” “fault,” and other expressions that indicate blame or accusation of another individual. 4. Instead of avoiding anger, another option is to see it as a sign that we are focusing on judgments (or conclusions) instead of needs. We can then try to identify the feelings and needs that lie underneath our anger. 5. It is not necessary or healthy to avoid anger, or try to keep it in. We can express our strong emotions – and we should try to do so without being destructive in our relationships or harming others. A good first step is to take responsibility for our emotions and feelings by connecting them to our needs. 6. The first step in being able to express anger constructively is to try to understand that anger, in terms of the unmet needs that have created it. 7. Once we have identified the needs that have been unmet, we can look to see the emotions that are associated with each of the needs not being met. For example, a commune councilor is angry with his/her coworker because he has not fulfilled his obligations in a timely manner, and frequently needs to be reminded about his responsibilities.

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Added by: Cord

Local solution: How to deal with Emotions in a Constructive Manner


  1. How would you define the feelings expressed by the other party?
  2. Why do you think the other party is reacting this way?
  3. How would you call the feelings expressed by yourself at the moment?
  4. Why do you think you are reacting this way?
  5. How would you feel if you would switch positions with the other party?


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Added by: DAS

Local solution: How to deal with emotions in the mediation process

Even though many facilitators have talent and have the role of a wise person in conflict resolution, they cannot avoid tension among the parties. In order to deal with emotion or tension; mediators need to know some important methods:

  • Ready to deal/cope with strong emotion: mediators should not trust the mediation process that it is always easy, you should expect that parties to conflict will have emotion when they meet or during discussion process.
  • Do not afraid of anger: it can be important that parties cry or scream, especially when starting to speak their problems or when a party screams loudly at the other.
  • Additional analysis: when anger happens in any party mediators should not use internal rules to put pressure on that party, who has emotion. Mediators should analyses immediately to find out problems that make party having emotion by using active listening skill and speak the words again that it may be able to change agner words into a direct focus on the interest. You can use open questions such as:  “Why you are upset? You can raise the anger words to speak one more times with a soft voice.
  • Request parties to explain of different ways in reducing tension
  • Turn the discussion into a future relationship
  • Raise future consequence by using real examples that parties have heard.
  • Raise of good experience in the past that they lived together
  • Tell short joke
  • Request for a separate discussion with parties
  • Tea and coffee or snacks break

Suspend the mediation when you see that parties have high tension; allow them return home, until they feel release then they can come back for mediation again.

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Local solution: Dealing with emotions

Nicolien Verkleij, judge at the court of The Hague and Head of the Dutch expert group for conflict resolution "Expertgroep Maatwerk Conflictoplossing"notes the following points:

  1. The best way to deal with emotions probably very much depends on cultural habits concerning emotions. In general, denying emotions with people from westerly cultures (e.g. by distracting the parties or starting about different topics) makes the emotional person feel ignored and not taken seriously, so this is not recommendable.
  2. This may be different for people from other cultures (Asian for instance), so if the person himself is obviously very ashamed about his emotions and this is common in his home culture, distraction and denial may be helpful.
  3. It is important the mediator knows and sets his own limits in what is acceptable to him or her. One person can deal with fierce emotions, someone else cannot. Take yourself seriously in this regard, in order to prevent yourself from getting emotional. If you get scared or angry yourself, you will lose control of the process.
  4. An expressed emotion is a diminishing emotion. Being silent and after a while saying empathically what you see (“I can see you are very angry/sad/ashamed”), being silent again, and then asking if it is okay to continue, can be enough. Don’t forget to ask the other participant(s) if it is alright for him/her/them to continue as well. If one of them says “no”, suspend the meeting for a short or longer term.
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Evidence from practice

Time out: Practitioners at a CRDC in Cambodia and interviewed paralegals in Rwanda said that when parties are overcome with emotions the facilitator let them go home and come back when they feel better.

Careful use of language: Praxis lawyers in Azerbaijan are careful to use non-intimidating language when asking questions about emotions. This encourages the parties to talk freely. They are also careful to give both parties the space and time they need to say what they want or need to say.

Evidence from handbooks

Checklist empathy:

  • Being sensitive to the feelings of clients and able to articulate them
  • Having an active interest in parties and what motivates them
  • See new opportunities for parties
  • Recognise emotions and power relationships and be able to neutralise them or to make them productive to come to a solution.

Evidence from literature

Understanding the causes of  common emotions in conflicts There are 5 key concerns that can often trigger strong emotions:

  1. Appreciation: does he /she feel understood, heard and valued?
  2. Affiliation: does he/she feel treated a friend, family member or colleague?
  3. Autonomy: does he/she feel his or her freedom was respected?
  4. Status: does he/she feel his or her status was respected as he/she deserves
  5. Role: does he/she feels his or her role is fulfilling?
Beyond reason, using emotions as you negotiate, R. Fisher and D. Saphiro, 2005

Dealing with emotionsWhen one party is upset, ask them to:

  • Explain the behavior that upsets them in specific and objective terms
  • Describe their feelings about what bothers you
  • Try to get the other to view the matter from their perspective
  • Not accuse the other party of misbehavior
  • Show respect for the other party
Adler, R. S., B. Rosen, et al. (1998). "Emotions in Negotiation: How to Manage Fear and Anger." Negotiation Journal: 161-179

The idea of 3 degrees of intervention: Moderate:

  • attempt to distract parties
  • ask questions to redirect the attention
  • refer to list of issues


  • Identify unacceptable expressions of emotions
  • Remind parties of the guiding principles of mediation
  • Ask parties to recommit to the process


  • Tell the parties that it is not acceptable,
  • Break into separate meetings,
  • Threaten to terminate the mediation unless the emotion is controlled.

Tips to help in situations where emotions are becoming difficult:

  • Break for tea
  • Calling separate meetings for safer emoting
  • Invite parties to suggest ways to deal with emotions

In case of a breach or negative behavior of one of the parties:

  • Ignoring the breach as inconsequential or otherwise not requiring an intervention
  • Distracting the parties from the breach with another question
  • Neutrally restating the guidelines and requesting fresh commitment
  • Reprimanding the offending party
  • Breaking into separate meetings
  • Using shaming techniques to bring parties back to business
Boulle, L. & Nesic, M., 2001, p. 195- 196, 161

 The PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) provides an example of an alternative way of bringing emotional information to the fore. PECS allows individuals to communicate their feelings more easily and improves social development. Magiati, I. & Howlin, P. (2003) 'A Pilot Evaluation Study of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) for children with autistic spectrum disorders'. Autism, 7(3) p.297

Working with emotions

by admin on March 16, 2011

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