Understanding Threat/Reward Response Psychology For Effective Challenge To Suggested Offers

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Understanding Threat/Reward Response Psychology For Effective Challenge To Suggested Offers

Published by laurence nicholson in Opinion · Tuesday 19 Sep 2023
(To listen to the audio podcast, click HERE)

Following on from my article on ‘Finding Emotional Encouragement to Help Realign a Dispute Situation’, today I am taking a look at what neuroscience is teaching us about the use of Emotional Intelligence in Communication, and how to apply this effectively in a mediation.

Today, advances in neuroscience have discovered many things related to the way our brains behave in different situations, and how these result in behaviours, emotions and applications of value systems from our internal view of the world.

One great example, and one I am focusing on today, is the findings that the brain actually experiences every situation or environment first and foremost as a social system, constructed from five primary social dimensions within which our brains respond to perceived threats and rewards.(see footnote 1)

When we receive messages in any format, our brains unconsciously evaluate the content and the purpose, or our interpretation of it, against the five primary social dimensions to determine if it represents a threat or a reward to each one, and then creates an emotional response to reflect the outcome.

If a reward is perceived, we will move towards the message and its purpose, in some form be it emotionally, physically, psychologically or practically.

If a threat is perceived, however, we will move away from it in the same way.

There is a ‘fly in the ointment’ though. There is a ratio between a threat and reward response of 5:1! This means we consider threats as 5 times more important to react to than rewards, or to think of it another way, there needs to be 5 reward responses to negate a single threat response. This is especially important in leadership and management training and behaviours particularly in communication and linguistics.

This cognitive system is another throwback to our ancient ancestors who needed to react quickly and effectively to threats (a large predator for example), but were always wary of rewards (some fresh meat left unattended, for example) in case they were a trap.

Fast forward to today, and we can have the same type of scenarios, but with different predators and rewards, but generally our threats and rewards are more related to socio-economic conditions of the workplace, family and social environments.

Now consider the mediation environment and the proposal of an offer being suggested by a party to be taken to the other party. I am sure we have all heard an offer to be made which we feel is clearly not going to be accepted, and could even be taken as an insult and put the progress made maybe even further back than where the mediation started.

Clearly under the facilitative mediation process used in England and Wales, impartiality requires us not to comment on appropriateness of such offers, however we can, and do, use challenge in a way which encourages the party to consider how they think the offer will be perceived by the other party.

Now think how such a challenge, or even better still an offer, could be constructed if the five primary social dimensions are used as a template for determining if the reaction will be one of moving toward (reward) or distancing (threat), by the recipient.

Evaluating any offer before it is made, to establish it as an overall reward dimension, trying to limit any threat dimensions to those which are carrying less importance in the current mediation scenario (and remember this will be different in every mediation and can even change during a single mediation), will likely result in more favourable responses in most cases, and increase the likelihood of reaching a settlement. It can also represent an effective way of redirecting a party’s attention away from the emotion of the dispute, and onto a cognitive exercise of offer evaluation, which will reduce considerably the emotional elements of the process, which is one of the significant aims of mediation itself.

Remember though, every threat perceived to one of the dimensions will be 5 times more impactful than a reward, so even though some of the social dimensions will be less important, the best outcome will result from an absolute minimum of threats, ultimately none at all.

To find out more about the five primary social dimensions and how to structure challenge and your communication to be predominantly reward based, contact me though my ‘ncubedgroup.com’ website and ask about the coaching and courses in ‘Neuroscience in Leadership’ and ‘EQ in Communications’ that are available.

Well, that is it for today. Follow my website or my LinkedIn Company pages for the next article/podcast.

As always, leave me comments, good bad or indifferent, by email or against the article (on the ‘blog’ page if you are listening to the podcast), and watch out for the next topic in a few weeks.

[1] For an explanation of the five primary social dimensions, go to ‘burnouthacker.com/for-corporates.html’ or ‘ncubedgroup.com/intelligent-communication---leadership.html’, to discuss the coaching and courses available, where single session workshops can be made available.


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