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Manifesting Impartiality – A Webinar with Prof Elizabeth Stokoe

Manifesting Impartiality – A Webinar with Prof Elizabeth Stokoe

On June 26, Professor Elizabeth Stokoe led an exclusive webinar for the CMC Community and Peer Mediation Working Groups. She shared both powerful and practical insights from her research on conversation analysis in mediation, emphasising effective communication strategies. Key takeaways included the importance of describing the mediation process clearly and focusing on future solutions to engage clients.


‘Manifesting Impartiality’, a webinar with Professor Elizabeth Stokoe, took place on the 26 June. An exclusive event for members of the CMC Community and Peer Mediation Working Groups, we were looking forward to an afternoon of insights based on research in to conversation analysis.

It was clear from the outset that this was going to be a high level and practical mediation skill share based on evidence backed research.  Listening to audio recordings of client first contact with community mediation providers, Liz shared the impact of different approaches to those calls and compared their effectiveness at engaging clients with mediation.

Mediation is not the easy option.  For those referred to their local community service by the police, a housing association or other agency; many stumble in to first contact with a mediation provider not being fully aware of what has been suggested or whether they might want to mediate. As Liz said, ‘it is not like phoning up for a doctor’s appointment’.  This puts a huge emphasis on the role of the caseworker/ first contact, to get the conversation right.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the research found that using words like ‘voluntary’ and ‘impartial’ to describe the mediation process, were not helpful.  Liz showed how instead, using a technique that described the mediation process itself, with fluency and without hesitation whilst giving focus to a future solution, drove higher rates of engagement. ‘Being impartial’, was more critical than explaining it.

The challenges posed by silence (from the call handler) which could be deemed judgemental by the caller were explored, as was the importance of aligning and not affiliating with a caller. The magic properties of the word ‘willing’, as in ‘would you be willing to meet with a mediator’ to keep the caller engaged with the mediation service, was just one of a multitude of practical tips shared with delegates and could be put to good use in both a community mediation and school mediation setting.

Conversation analysis as an area of research has so much to offer mediators and all those who support others to resolve conflict.  Our thanks to Professor Stokoe and all attendees.

Elizabeth Stokoe is a professor in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at The London School of Economics and Political Science. She conducts conversation analytic research to understand how talk works – from first dates to medical communication and from sales encounters to mediation and crisis negotiation. Her research on mediation fed into a new communication approach for the Ministry of Justice in 2014.

In addition to academic publishing, she is passionate about science communication, and has given talks at TED, Google, Microsoft, and The Royal Institution, and performed at Latitude and Cheltenham Science Festivals. Her books include Talk: The Science of Conversation (Little, Brown, 2018) and Crisis Talk (Routledge, 2022, co-authored with Rein Ove Sikveland and Heidi Kevoe-Feldman). During the Covid-19 pandemic she participated in a behavioural science sub-group of the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and is a member of Independent SAGE behaviour group. She is a Wired Innovation Fellow and in 2021 was awarded Honorary Fellowship of the British Psychological Society.

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