Recovery Time for Peer Mediators
How much time does it take for a mediator to "recover?"
That is, after he or she mediates, how long before a mediator returns to their baseline emotional state and can give their best attention to the other concerns of their life?
I was recently reminded of this question while reading a passage in Daniel Goleman's modern classic, Emotional Intelligence.
In it, Goleman describes how people influence one another's moods when they interact. He writes that such "emotional contagion" is a "tacit exchange that happens in every encounter...We transmit and catch moods from each other in what amounts to a subterranean economy of the psyche."
I explored just this sort of exchange in a previous issue of The School Mediator; my focus there, however, was on the influence that mediators have on parties.
But it works both ways. Parties have a subtle yet undeniable impact upon mediators, particularly when they vent strong feelings during their session.
The most common impact is upon the mediators' moods. When mediators are present while parties display powerful emotions, they "absorb" some of these feelings on a purely physiological level (and whether they are aware of it or not).
As Goleman writes, "We unconsciously imitate the emotions we see displayed by someone else, through an out-of-awareness motor mimicry of their facial expression, gestures, tone of voice, and other nonverbal markers."
Significantly, this imitation is often so subtle as to be invisible to the naked eye; it can only be confirmed in the laboratory with electronic sensors attached to subjects' faces.
At this point you might be asking, "Why is this important for us to consider? What's the big deal?"
The big deal, I think, is on the back end. For not only do we ask student mediators to step out of their normal school routine in order to facilitate emotional conversations among their peers. After the session ends, we ask them to step right back into that routine, where they need to focus on their studies, work cooperatively, take tests, present papers and so on.
If mediators carry the dark mood from a session back to class, it could diminish their capacity to think and perceive clearly, and therefore to do their best in school.
Fortunately, "recovering"--returning to one's baseline emotional mood--typically does not take very long. Five to ten minutes almost always suffices.
Nor is recovering very complicated: a few minutes to decompress and connect with a caring person usually does the trick.
And here is an instance of where our collective intuition has been accurate: Peer mediation coordinators' longstanding practice of debriefing with mediators facilitates such recovery.
In addition, I've known coordinators who let mediators briefly hang out in the mediation room, chat with other friends who might be there, unwind with a stress ball or with a game, read a magazine, etc.
Likely because of these commonsense practices, I have rarely heard concerns that students are disadvantaged by mediating.
In fact, the research demonstrates that student mediators benefit the most from the peer mediation scheme, including academically. Most students are thrilled to mediate. It's interesting, inspiring, and powerfully helpful to others. And it's fun.
But we should be sure to provide a few minutes, and very modest resources, to enable mediators to settle back into their normal rhythm after each session.
Let them "unconsciously imitate" our supportive presence, and then send them on their way.
What are your thoughts? How do you attend to student mediators after a session?