We are learning more and more about how our surroundings affect our health, mood, creativity, and productivity. See, for example, these links (here and here) about the cognitive benefits of nature. Just as is true with music, I think the choice of setting is an underemployed influence that can be used in conflict resolution. But, just like music, what soothes us or energizes us is not universal. A setting that is ideal for me and my moods and states may be different from the one that is optimal for you.
So the ideal setting presents a challenge.
For ideas to ponder when thinking about the setting of a mediation, we can look to an intriguing field called design psychology. Click to read "Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places," a white paper by Dr. Toby Israel, one of the field's leaders. From that paper:
Many of the design visionaries and scores of those practicing today cite Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language as their “bible” — their source of inspiration when it comes to people and place. While I, too, have been inspired by Alexander, much of Design Psychology theory and practice is grounded in the work of Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist. Maslow believed that we are all motivated to become “self-actualized” human beings — whole, fulfilled people who, similarly, are able to “appreciate again and again freshly and naively, the basic good of life with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy . . . ” Maslow believed that we could only become self-actualized once we have satisfied a hierarchy of human needs as included in his classic hierarchy ... .
For the purpose of Design Psychology, I have transposed Maslow’s theory into a theory of place as “self- actualization.”
Her theory-of-place pyramid can be seen here on page 25.
Although I am not suggesting we look to a pyramid topped by self-actualization for the place of a mediation, I do think the chart can remind us to consider carefully the purpose of the meeting and, to the extent possible and feasible, to be mindful of the setting's influence.
And, whenever possible, don't you think it is valuable to involve the parties in that decision? I do and have found you can learn much by doing so. Just one example: In a recent mediation, the choosing of the place and then the process of handling the logistics of the location arrangements had a positive impact on the group when we convened.
We were better able to address the dispute due to the grace and pace of choosing the place and space. (Okay, sometimes I can't resist a jinglish rhyme.)