For years venting, the outpouring of strong emotions, has been heralded as beneficial, even essential, to the mediation process. Educators and practitioners alike have defined this venting process as critical to building bridges between the pain of the past to the potential for future resolution. Historically, mediators have been trained to encourage parties to share their feelings associated with the conflict at issue with the mediator. In some situations, mediators even facilitate the venting process between the disputants.
Studies, however, have challenged the cathartic effect of sharing “negative” emotions within the negotiation and mediation processes. Some researchers have found expressions of anger to be counterproductive. Verbalizing negative emotions may move parties backwards and reinforce resentment thus impeding the possibility of reaching resolution.
Mediators must be mindful of the benefits and risks associated with encouraging the expression of complex emotions. The multi-dimensional nature of venting does not lend itself to a one size fits all approach. Venting is a little like salt. It can be healthy or harmful depending on how it is managed and monitored. It is the mediator’s responsibility to set the tone, mentor thoughtful reflection and facilitate productive discussions.