Narratives and emotions: resolving stuck negotiations

To appear in Mediation Quarterly

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find sorrow and suffering enough to dispel all hostility.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1857)

Emotion, alienation, and narratives: resolving intractable conflict

Suzanne Retzinger and Thomas Scheff


This article explores the role of emotion and alienation in protracted conflict, making preliminary suggestions as to how they might be managed. First we note the slight attention given these topics in the mediation/negotiation literature. Then we show how emotional/relational issues are related to theories of economic/political interests, on the one hand, and narratives and ideologies of conflict, on the other. We focus on the way alienated relationships impair communication, and the way they generate intense emotions, especially shame and anger. In our view, secret (unacknowledged) alienation and shame are the primary causes of intractable conflict. Finally, we propose a role for mediators in the acknowledgment of emotion and alienation as a way of resolving intractable conflicts.

Most current training for negotiation/mediation hardly mentions feelings and emotions. Much of the literature on mediation states or at least implies that emotions should be ignored, as if both sides of a dispute can be coaxed into behaving rationally. However, Fisher, Ury, and Patton (1991), the most popular book in this field, suggest that emotions need to be dealt with first, before substance (pp. 29-32). But their discussion is brief and casual. The only emotion that is specifically named is anger. They seem to assume that anger is a simple and unitary emotion, and give only brief hints about managing it. We propose that the lack of detailed attention to emotions and relationships is the biggest gap in our understanding of conflict.

Of course there are mediations in which emotions can be safely ignored. In such situations, the parties' concerns over substance can be negotiated directly, and resolution or compromise can be reached quickly. For the average mediator, simple conflicts like these may occur in the majority of cases. There are many mediations, however, in which one or both sides seem intractable. In some of these cases, there is flagrant hostility. In others both sides are courteous but remote. In both of these situations headway toward settlement is slow or absent. We propose that in seemingly intractable conflict, headway can be made if the mediator is skilled enough to help the parties explore not only the substantive issues, but also the emotional/relational side of their conflict.

Managing anger

An example of the need for further training in emotions and relationships is provided by the topic of anger management in current mediation/negotiation texts. The advice currently given in the literature is to usually allow venting of anger-"letting off steam." (Fisher, Ury, and Patten 1991, pp. 31). Although this advice is right for some cases, for others it is inadequate or even destructive. Just as making distinctions between kinds of snow is important for a skier, distinguishing kinds of anger is essential for a mediator/negotiator.

One should certainly encourage the venting of one kind of anger, pure anger that is unalloyed with other emotions. This kind of anger mobilizes the intellect of both speaker and listener, is not inappropriate or excessive, and doesn’t lead to name-calling or disrespect. The person who expresses anger constructively may provide listeners with a rapid, exact and comprehensive description of their grievances and needs. This kind of anger marshals respect for the speaker, and is informative for the listeners.

Unfortunately, this kind of anger is quite rare. Most anger displays in negotiation, and indeed, in real life, are not pure anger, but anger alloyed with other emotions, such as disgust, contempt, or feelings of rejection or humiliation. These alloys seldom lead to constructive responses; indeed they almost always leading to excess and put/downs that are disruptive (There is a partial recognition of the mischief caused by shame admixed with anger in Stone, Patton, and Heen 1999, p. 96.).

This problem is illustrated by a incident reported by Saposnek (l983), involving the couple "Joan" and "Paul", in mediation of a custody dispute: "in the middle of a heated exchange, a wife said to her ex-husband, 'You never paid any attention to the children, then you left me, and you're not getting the children now or ever'" (p. 185).

Does the mediator intervene, or allow the husband to reply? If the mediator does intervene, what would she say? We return to this particular question below, after framing the negotiation of conflict within a larger context, the interplay between ideology/narrative, substantive interests, and emotional/relational issues.

Theory: ideology/narratives and economic/political interests in conflict

Ideology seems to be an important element in intractable conflict. Typically, it provides justification for actions, as is the case when one or both sides demonize the other and idealize themselves. Without fail this process prolongs and intensifies conflict.

Ideology gives rise to (and is generated by) the story that each side tells to itself and others about the conflict. This story contains crucial elements that can either perpetuate or resolve conflict: the identity that each side awards to itself, the history and future of the struggle, and generates the explosive emotions connected with the conflict. Changes in the ideology and its accompanying narratives can change the nature of the conflict.

But adherents to an entrenched ideology/narrative may resist even verbal changes. Aggressors often feel that being victimized themselves justifies their aggression. Spouses who abuse their partners often justify their aggression as if the actions of the partner caused their violence. Men who beat their wives often argue that the wife was the true culprit, because of her taunts or insults, unfaithfulness, disobedience or some other action culpable in the husband's eyes.

The victim ideology is a potent force in aggression not only between persons but also between groups. From news reports, it is clear that Serbians think of themselves as victims, which they use to justify their aggression. And it is true that Serbians have been actually been victimized for hundreds of years. What is left out of the Serbian narratives is the fact that as well as being victims, they are also perpetrators. Their ideology/narrative is defensive, in that it distorts their role in generating conflict with other groups.

How can entrenched narratives be changed? Stories that express hidden emotion may be a beginning. An example is provided by the "Speak Bitterness" meetings in the early days of the Chinese Communist Revolution. Before they took power, Chinese communists attempted to liberate the peasants from their history of suffering and despair by social psychological means. They had been victims of oppression for so long that they had lost hope. In the Speak Bitterness meetings, they were allowed to tell their stories of oppression. This process resulted in mass weeping. The meetings seemed to build hope among the peasants, and allowed them to mobilize in support of the revolution. After the communists took power, they used similar meetings as means of domination. But earlier they played a part in causing profound changes in narratives and behavior. The "truth-telling" that has recently occurred in South Africa may also have had a similar effect in allowing both black and white citizens to express their suffering.

Marx’s theory of conflict

These examples suggest that changing ideology/narrative can be effective in ending conflict, but also that ideology/narrative is itself a product of more primitive causes. Theorists have long debated the relative importance of ideology and material interests. In this debate, Marx’s theory was most powerful. In his theory of conflict, he proposed that ideology was only a superstructure. Location in the means of production is the substructure. That is, Marx thought that ideology was a product of political/economic interests. Later Marxians, especially Communist theoreticians, elevated this crude proposition to the central core of their theory.

However, Marx himself qualified the proposition in several ways. First of all, he allowed that certain middle-class intellectuals, like himself, would forsake their class interests to become the vanguard of the proletariat. What force could bring these intellectuals to forsake their class interests?

Marx’s theory of alienation implies such a force. It suggests that in addition to economic and political causes of class conflict, there are relational and emotional ones. The middle class intellectuals who formed the vanguard had presumably become alienated from their class. More generally, Marx proposed that persons in capitalist societies become alienated not only from the means of production, but from others and from self. That is, that capitalism reflects and generates disturbances in social relationships and in the self. In his review of empirical studies of alienation, Seeman (1975) found evidence of both kinds of alienation: alienation from others and from self (Seeman referred to the latter as "self-estrangement").

Marx went on to implicate the emotions that accompany alienation. He proposed that it gave rise to feelings of "impotence" (shame) and "indignation" (anger) (Marx, in Tucker 1978, pp. 133-134). Marx’s theory of alienation proposes that the causes of class conflict are not only political and economic, but also relational and emotional.

Although Marx supplemented his theory of the political/economic causes of class conflict with a theory of emotional/relational causes, there is a great disparity in his development of the two theories. The political/economic theory is lavishly elaborated. The bulk of his commentary on alienation takes place in his early work. Even there, as in later works, formulation of theory of alienation is brief and casual. It is easy to understand why Marx’s followers have also made it secondary to material interests.

Preliminaries to a general theory

Our theory of emotional/relational causes of intractable conflict develops the effects of alienation, particularly disturbances in communication and emotion, beyond Marx’s formulation. Like capitalism, the emotional/relational system in modern societies is a partially autonomous system. The two systems interact in complex ways. In intractable conflict, the importance of emotional/relational motives seems to wax in more or less the same degree as material interests wane.

For example, in Northern Ireland, the parties in conflict long acted as if economic incentives were of little concern. There are four parties to the conflict: the Protestant and Catholic factions in N. Ireland, England, and the Republic of Ireland. All four parties are expending vast amounts on engaging in or defending against aggression. England, the largest group, is expending perhaps six billion dollars a year to keep the peace by show of force. The other three groups are expending equivalent amounts, relative to their smaller sizes. They are all risking bankruptcy. Even if a settlement is reached, we still need to know why it has taken so long.

Most of the experts on the conflict in N. Ireland are of the opinion that the impediments to peace and reconciliation were deep-seated emotions. Here is one example:

Anyone who studies Northern Ireland must be struck by the intensity of feeling which the conflict evokes. It seems to go beyond what is required by a rational defence of the divergent interests that undoubtedly exist. There is an emotional element here, a welling-up of deep unconscious forces. It is worth examining what contribution psychology can make to an explanation of the conflict. (Whyte 1990; my emphasis)

Whyte doesn't indicate, however, what these emotions might be, nor do any of the other experts who hold a similar opinion.

The materialist ("realist") approach to conflict assumes that political/economic forces are the most important causes, with emotional, relational, and symbolic causes subsidiary. This approach may be true in some cases. But in intractable conflict, it is probably not. Although variously referred to as status, prestige, honor, glory, etc, intractable conflicts seem to be fueled by non-material as well as material concerns.

Hitler’s motivation provides an example. In his writing and speeches, he provided a material motive for German aggression: room for the German people to live (Lebensraum). But there is a powerful subtext in the same writing and speeches, revenge for the humiliations that the Germans had suffered, which he thought would restore community and pride to the German nation (Scheff 1994). Hitler was a master at exploiting emotions to his own ends. He used them to manipulate the German people.

We propose that ideology and narratives are important elements in all intractability, but that they in turn are products of political/economic and emotional/relational interests. It seems to us that most present day negotiation techniques ignore emotional/relational concerns. Perhaps interventions need to be developed which would acknowledge and change the emotional/relational world of the adversaries.

One direction for stuck negotiations would be to pay particular attention to emotional/relational issues, negotiating the relationship between the adversaries. In relationship mediation, one would appropriately acknowledge the suffering of the parties in such a way that might allow both sides to feel deeply heard. This kind of mediation could lead to an immediate change in the mood of the negotiation.

Perhaps the biggest block to progress in negotiating stuck conflicts is that one or both parties feel that their stories have not been told, or if told, not heard. When both parties feel deeply heard, the mood may change to the point that actual negotiation can be begun. The mediator’s key task, in such cases, would be to help the parties to formulate their stories in a way that doesn't delete the emotions, and to be sure that when they are told, that they are acknowledged.

Emotions and alienation in protracted conflict

The integration of political/economic, narrative, and emotional/relational interests into a single program of negotiation has yet to be accomplished. This article is only a first step in that direction. We address two kinds of protracted conflict: 1. Interminable quarrel: irrational anger, resentment or hatred. 2. Impasse: Both parties more or less polite, but negotiation is stuck. These conflicts are dominated by a seemingly impenetrable mood of either hostility or remoteness. Can mediators influence the mood of a negotiation?

THEORY: when a solution or compromise can’t be reached, the problem may lie hidden in the emotional/relational world.

1. Relational dynamics concern the social bonds between and within the disputing parties. In our theory, bimodal alienation (isolation between the disputing groups, and engulfment [fusion] within each group) causes protracted conflict. Scheff 1994)). These dynamics are hidden from the participants, especially the fusion part. Engulfment means that members give up part of self in order to be loyal to the group, but are unaware of what they have lost (Seeman's self-estrangement). Fanatical nationalism ("My country [gender, race, ethnicity, family etc.] right or wrong.") is the result. It is much easier to imagine union with the unknown members of one’s sect ("imaginary communities") than to do the demanding work of making relationships in one’s real interpersonal network more livable.

2. Emotion dynamics: In interminable quarrels, shame/anger spirals (humiliated fury, helpless anger) within and between the disputing parties, with the shame component hidden from self and other, cause intractability (Retzinger 1991; Scheff 1994). Both Gaylin 1884 and Gilligan 1996 propose shame as the cause of rage. In impasse, both shame and anger are hidden. In both cases it is the hidden shame that does the damage, because hidden shame blocks the possibility of repair of damaged bonds. To the extent that shame is hidden from self in others, one cannot bring one's self to connect with the other side, leading to more alienation, and so on, around the loop. Hidden shame and alienation are the emotional and relational sides of the same dynamic system, a cycle of violence.

Example: Episode from an interview with John Silber, as described in Milburn and Conrad (1996). Silber is the ex-president of Boston University, and still a powerful conservative force in Massachusetts politics. His approach to political issues is a prime example of the politics of rage in the United States. As Milburn and Conrad (1996) suggest, it was an outburst of rage during a TV broadcast on the eve of the election that seemed to cost him the race when he ran for governor.

In an earlier interview, Silber told the interviewer that his sixth grade teacher laughed at him for wanting to be a veterinarian, since Silber had a withered arm. When the interviewer asked him how he felt about being laughed at, Silber replied that he wasn’t humiliated, it made him stronger. In the framework of our theory, this episode can be interpreted to mean that Silber’s rage as a person and as a politician might arise from the denial of shame. It is not alienation or emotion alone that cause protracted conflict, but their denial by the participants. We propose that the denial of emotion and alienation lead to intractable conflict.

At first glance this proposition seems counter-intuitive. First of all, it violates the "realist" approach in political thinking, that all conflict involves material interests. It also violates the rationalist approach, which considers conflict to be the outcome of conscious intentions. Since rationalism is pervasive in the social sciences, we will consider this issue further.

The therapeutic approach runs counter to rationalism, especially psychodynamic theories of therapy, which posit unconscious motives. This approach has had little impact on theories of conflict, because most social scientists reject therapeutic approaches as irrelevant to collective behavior, and psychodynamic psychologists have shown little concern for large-scale conflict.

But in world literature there is a much broader rejection of rationalism, implied in the quest for self-knowledge. Long before Freud, the Greek philosophers proposed that the goal of philosophical thinking was knowledge of the self, and by implication, that human folly is a result of lack of self-knowledge. This thread forms one of the central concerns in both ancient and modern literature. For at least three thousand years, stories, myths, fables, satires, and more recently, novels have explored the theme of the dire consequences of lack of self-knowledge.

This theme is epitomized in a line in one of Goethe’s (1789) dramas:

The gift of the great poet is to be able to voice his suffering, even when other men would be struck dumb in their agony.

Still more closely related to our treatment of intractability is a comment by the late Helen Lewis (1971), who said that most of us, rather than turn ourselves inside-out, would rather turn the world upside down. This is the theme of Scheff’s (1994) treatment of the Franco-German wars (1870-1945). The French took their defeat at the hands of Prussia in 1871 as a collective humiliation. Rather than acknowledge this feeling, they plotted revenge on the Germans, resulting in their instigation, with Russia, of the First World War. After their defeat in 1918, it was the turn of the Germans to experience defeat as a collective humiliation. Hitler’s appeal to the German people involved exploiting this feeling. Hitler’s own biography appears to be a classic example of the need to turn the world upside down rather than discover and acknowledge one’s own feelings, since he was extraordinarily shamed and shame-prone from childhood.

Just as lack of knowledge of self lies at the heart of the emotional drive toward intractability, so lack of knowledge of the other is the key to alienation. We learn about self through knowing others, and vice versa. Impairment of knowledge of the other damages knowledge of self, and vice versa. Denial of emotion and of alienation go hand in hand. We propose that intractability arises out of lack of knowledge of the emotional/relational world, i.e, denial of alienation and emotion.

PRACTICE: The Acknowledgment of Shame and Alienation: Gaining knowledge of the emotional/relational world

Our practice follows from the premise that intractability arises from lack of knowledge of self and other, from denial of suffering. To begin to resolve a stuck conflict, help the clients acknowledge, or acknowledge for them, at least a small part of their alienation and/or hidden emotions, in a way that leaves some dignity intact. When this has occurred, real negotiation can begin. (Although Stone, Patten and Heen [1999] do not develop the idea of acknowledgment of hidden emotions, their discussion of venting implies that it is a key element in dealing with difficult negotiations (pp. 106-107)).

Alienation: mediators learn to identify patterns of alienation and the ensuing dysfunctional communication between and within the disputing groups.

Emotion: mediators learn to identify cues to unacknowledged emotions in the discourse of the disputing parties.

Special training is necessary for detecting shame, because most of it is disguised and/or denied. (See Retzinger’s cues to hidden anger and shame (1991; 1995, and in the Appendix of this article). Following Helen Lewis (1971), we find that most shame occurs either in the overt, undifferentiated form, or in the bypassed form. In the first type, there is intense emotional pain, but it is misnamed or encoded ("I feel miserable, hurt, insulted, inadequate, a failure, foolish, etc). In bypassed shame, however, there is virtually no emotional pain. Instead, there is obsessive rumination, incessant talk or hyperactivity. In this latter form, one can be in a state of shame without feeling ashamed (see Silber episode, above). Bypassing appears to be the primary form that men use for denying shame. Their arrogance and aggression serve to mask hidden shame.

Accurately reflecting alienation and unacknowledged emotions back to the disputing parties can help them to feel heard. But the mediator needs great skill to detect the undercurrents of denied emotions and alienation, and tact to reflect them back in a form that will not further embarrass the clients.

This practice is not a form of psychotherapy, but of crisis management. The mediator is quickly in and out, entering the clients’ emotional/relational world only long enough to get the negotiation process unstuck. The mediator’s accurate reflections of the clients’ hidden feelings allows them to communicate better and to feel deeply heard. We believe that the basic stuckness of protracted conflict is a product of clients not feeling heard by each other, the mediator, and the world at large. This failure is mostly due to the clients: most delete their emotions from the stories they tell. But it is these emotions that are driving their intractability.

Example: The sticking point for the Nationalist Catholics in the North Ireland conflict may have been that after 600 years of humiliation by the English, they still have not found a way of acknowledging their feelings of shame and humiliation. They have been masking their humiliation by anger and aggression for so many generations that they can no longer access it without outside help. Feelings of humiliation were not acknowledged in the N. Ireland peace negotiations, which have dealt only with substance (rather than relationship, Fisher, Ury and Patton 1991).

Here we take a step toward describing the way shame generates anger, and more generally, identifying and untangling the strands of hidden emotions and alienation in protracted conflict.

Identifying patterns of alienation and dysfunctional communication:

1. Topic vs manner (Watslawick, et al 1968; Fisher, et al [1991, make what seems to be the same distinction, calling it substance vs relationship). The negotiation of most protracted conflict seems to be entrapped in a succession of topics, with little or no attention to the relationship between the disputants, especially the emotional relationship.

2. Respect vs disrespect. Often respect issues are subtle rather than flagrant. Typically, disputants deny that their verbal and nonverbal communications may be insulting to the other party. Indeed, though each party is supremely sensitive to the disrespect in communications of the other party, they are often mostly or even completely unaware of the disrespect in their own.

3. Triangling (Bowen, 1978). This is a variation on topic vs manner, with the topic being an absent third party). For example, in N. Ireland negotiations, although there are actually four parties involved in the present impasse, all of them are seldom present in a particular meeting. Those present may blame the absent party in order to avoid emotional/relational issues among those present.

Emotions: For many people, their most accessible emotion is anger. But anger is usually a secondary emotion. Underneath the anger, there is usually a primary emotion, commonly referred to as "hurt". What is the hurt in each instance of anger? How can the hurt be reflected in a way that will allow the client to feel heard? Emotion analysis is a way of clarifying the hurt and locating it within the relational matrix of conflict. Our findings suggest that the dominant component of "hurt", at least the kind of hurt that leads to hatred and aggression, is hidden shame. (See extended example in Scheff and Retzinger article on Scheff (1998) website).

Given our emphasis on hidden shame and anger, what advice do we give mediator/negotiators on the venting of anger? Our answer is that clients’ anger can be encouraged or tolerated as long as it is not damaging the bond between them. Since most displays of anger and rage are destructive, mediators should be trained to interrupt most expressions of anger immediately, not even allowing the other party to respond.

The custody dispute between "Joan" and "Paul" (Saposnek 1983), alluded to above, provides an example. The wife has said "You never paid any attention to the children, then you left me, and you’re NOT getting the children now or ever!" Should the mediator intervene at this point, or allow the husband to respond? According to our theory, the mediator must intervene, in order to avoid further escalation.

Joan does not discuss her feelings directly but they are implied. In her one sentence there are three statements which show a sequence of perceived insults and humiliations leading to angry revenge. First, Joan complains about and blames Paul, implying that he is an inadequate father; then she reveals a context for intense humiliation, "you left me" (he severed the bond between them). The third breath is a threat of angry revenge - to withhold the children from Paul. All three statements are potentially humiliating for Paul -- he is the one at fault with the children, the marriage, and a threat to separate him from his children (as he has separated himself from Joan). There is a mountain of both anger and shame. At this point, the mediator intervened before Paul had a chance to reply, saying:

The anger and hurt you feel right now is not unusual, and it is very understandable. It is also not unusual for a parent who was not involved with the children before a divorce to decide to become sincerely involved after the divorce. Allowing that opportunity will give your children a chance to get to know their father in the future in a way that you wanted in the past. But give yourself plenty of time to get through these difficult feelings (p.185-6).

This is a crucial moment for intervention: the mediator acknowledges and reframes for both parties in a way that helps them to begin building a new bond - that of co-parents. At the same time the intervention deflects potential humiliation, the mediator interprets vulnerable feelings for both parents, legitimating their anger and hurt (shame).

The mediator interrupted the cycle in which the disputants had been entangled, but in a way which did not further humiliate either party. The intervention was paradigmatic; even though it saved face, it did not endorse the position of either party. The mediator was able to remain neutral; he did not become emeshed in the family conflict. Saposnek describes the effects of the intervention:

On hearing this the husband kept quite, for he knew that the mediator's remark implied support for his continuing relationship with the children, yet presented it in a way that allowed both him and his wife to save face. He then tearfully expressed his sincerity in wanting to become more involved with the children. The wife cried and was able to constructively express her hurt feelings at being left by the husband. Negotiations then became possible (p.186).

By interrupting the quarrel cycle, and by expressing shame and hurt for the clients, the mediator appears to have avoided further escalation.

This incident illustrates repair of the relationship in several ways. First, it suggests that in order to build a new bond between the disputants, the mediator must be active rather than passive. Social bonds are at risk in all encounters; if they are not being built, maintained, or repaired, they are being damaged. A fallacious result of "cathartic" theories has been the unfortunate notion that a passive mediator is allowing the parties to "blow off steam." There can be little benefit from contempt, disgust, or ridicule. On the contrary, these types of emotional expression are harmful, because they further damage bonds, perpetuating the quarrel system.

The mediator's intervention illustrates key components of repair: saving face (avoiding further shaming transactions), and helping clients to acknowledge their "hurt". In the case of Joan and Paul, the mediator appears to have detected the potential for humiliation of the husband in the utter rejection implied in the wife's comment: *"You don't count; it doesn't matter to me what you say, think, or feel." The old bond between wife and husband has been broken, if the mediator allowed this comment to pass, it would become more difficult to form a new bond as co-parents.

Most of the components for repairing the bond are present in this single intervention: 1) the source of impasse, seen in the sequences of Joan's first utterance; 2) face-saving (respectful tactics); 3) acknowledgement of feeling and the state of the bond; 4) knowledge of interacting systems; 5) a secure base is provided by the mediator for exploration.

Although the intervention itself is masterful, the author does not utilize theory in generating or explaining it, nor a method for identifying shame/anger sequences. The intervention was apparently based on the author’s intuitive response to the underlying emotions, which was in turn based on years of experience with similar situations. Our theory of conflict offers a way of justifying such interventions, and training new mediators/ negotiators to have similar intuitions without waiting for years of experience.

Summary: The mediator’s accurate reflections of the state of the bond and emotion can change the mood of a conflict, allowing real negotiation to begin. The basic task is to help the clients formulate their stories so that they don’t delete the emotional/relational components, and then be sure that these complete stories are heard and acknowledged. Even if the clients can’t really hear each other’s stories, it is important that the mediator hear them.

Stages for the resolution of protracted conflict

Our proposal is the opposite of three easy steps in self-help books because it involves three increasingly difficult steps:

1. Training mediators: the mediators learns to identify unacknowledged emotions and patterns of alienation, including their own, as a tool for changing the mood of negotiation. The difficulty of this kind of training can be grasped if you thinkof the task of training someone like John Silber to be this kind of mediator.

2. The actual negotiation: The mediator reflects back her clients’ unacknowledged emotions and alienation, allowing resolution.

3. Returning home: The clients reflect back their constituents’ unacknowledged emotions and alienation, building support for the mediated solution. This last step has a utopian ring to it, but it may at least allow us to see the magnitude of the problem. This skill may have been at the heart of Desmond Tutu’s management of the ending of apartheid in South Africa, but is as yet rare among current mediators. Perhaps an emphasis on the relational/emotional world could create a new generation of mediators/negotiators for resolving intractable conflict.


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Retzinger, Suzanne. 1991. Violent Emotions. Newbury Park: Sage.

______________ 1995. Identifying Shame and Anger in Discourse. American Behavioral Scientist 38: 104-113.

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Scheff, Thomas. 1994. Bloody Revenge. Boulder, COL.: Westview

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Whyte, John. 1990. Interpreting Northern Ireland. Oxford: Oxford U. Press




alienated: rejected, dumped, deserted, rebuff, abandoned, estranged, deserted, isolated, separate, alone, disconnected, disassociated, detached, withdrawn, inhibited, distant, remote, split, divorced, polarized.

confused: stunned, dazed, blank, empty, hollow, spaced giddy, lost, vapid, hesitant, aloof.

ridiculous: foolish, silly, funny, absurd, idiotic, asinine, simple-minded, stupid, curious, weird, bizarre, odd peculiar, strange, different, stupid.

inadequate: helpless, powerless, defenseless, weak, insecure, uncertain, shy, deficient, worse off, small, failure, ineffectual, inferior, unworthy, worthless, flawed, trivial, meaningless, insufficient, unsure, dependent, exposed, inadequate, incapable, vulnerable, unable, inept, unfit, impotent, oppressed.

uncomfortable: restless, fidgety, jittery, tense, anxious, nervous, uneasy, antsy, jumpy, hyperactive.

hurt: offended, upset, wounded, injured, tortured, ruined, sensitive, sore spot, buttons pushed, dejected, intimidated, defeated.

ANGER: cranky, cross, hot-tempered, ireful, quick-tempered, short fuse, enraged, fuming, agitated, furious, irritable, incensed, indignant, irate, annoyed, mad, pissed, pissed off, teed-off, upset, furious, aggravated, bothered, resentful, bitter, spiteful, grudge (the last four words imply shame-rage compounds).

Other verbal markers:

SHAME: Mitigation (to make appear less severe or painful); oblique, suppressed reference, e. g. "they", "it", "you"; vagueness; denial; defensiveness; verbal withdrawal (lack of response); indifference (Acting "cool" in an emotionally arousing context).

ANGER: interruption; challenge; sarcasm; blame

Shame-rage: Temporal expansion/condensation or generalization, ("you always...", "you never. .."). Triangulation (bringing up an irrelevant third party or object.)


SHAME: (vocal withdrawal/hiding behaviors, disorganization of thought): over-soft; rhythm irregular; hesitation; self-interruption (censorship); filled pauses (-uh-); long pauses (); silences; stammer; fragmented speech; rapid speech; condensed words; mumble; breathiness; incoherence (lax articulation); laughed words; monotone.

ANGER: staccato (distinct breaks between successive tones); loud; heavy stress on certain words; sing-song pattern (ridicule); straining; harsh voice qualifiers.

Shame-rage: whine; glottalization -(rasp or buzz); choking; tempo up/down; pitch up/down.


SHAME: l) Hiding behavior: a) the hand covering all or parts of the face, b) gaze aversion, eyes lowed or averted. 2) Blushing 3) Control: a) turning in, biting, or licking the lips, biting the tongue, b) forehead wrinkled vertically or transversely, c) false smiling (Ekman & Freisen, 1982); or other masking behaviors.

ANGER: l) brows lowered and drawn together, vertical lines appear between them. 2) The eyelids are narrowed and tense in a hard fixed stare and may have a bulging appearance. 3) Lips pressed together, the corners straight or down, or open but tense and square. 4) Hard direct glaring 5) Lean forward toward other in challenging stance 6) Clenched fists, wave fists, hitting motions

These markers are context-related; that is, their relevance depends on the relationship between self and other. You need to look for constellation of markers in context.

From Retzinger (1991; 1995).

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