Recent Article Explores How to Productively Address Aggression Within Mediation Practices - Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

November 20, 2019by Natalie Davis

Summary of:

Van Dokkum, N. (2019). Dealing with Aggression. Retrieved from

Background & Theory:

While the goal in mediation is often to remain objective and remove emotions, Neil van Dokkum explored the reasons why it may be beneficial to take a client’s feelings and reactions into account for a more successful solution for the involved parties, specifically in terms of aggression. He evaluates the mainstream theories on mediation and uses examples and definitions to prove his point.

Research Question(s):

Neil van Dokkum explores in his article, “Dealing with Aggression” (2019), the following questions:

  • Will addressing aggression and other emotions inhibit the process of mediating, or contribute to longer-lasting solutions?
  • How does one mediate effectively when taking these emotions and reactions into account?


To make his point, van Dokkum mentions current mediation theories, explains necessary definitions, and uses examples. He focuses on mediation theories that recommend remaining neutral and diffusing situations by avoiding all emotions. He also covers the current definitions and implications for aggression and anger. Finally, he lists hypothetical scenarios to show how aggression interferes with mediation (and in the same turn, can assist the mediator in discovering hidden desires or needs of the aggressor) and addressing it could solve for a smoother reconciliation.


Neil van Dokkum found that if aggressive behavior is addressed at the very beginning of mediation, and it is addressed consistently, this can assist for a smoother and shorter mediation process overall. Additionally, asking the disputants to assist in creating a list of behavioral rules and acting appropriately yourself as the mediator can greatly assist in diffusing negative situations and can make both parties more willing to participate, which is crucial to reach a positive and long-lasting agreement.

He notes that it is critical that the mediator addresses negative behavior privately from the other disputants, assists the aggressor in determining what needs or desires are driving the aggressive behavior, and separates the other disputant from the actual problems at hand so that the aggression can be minimalized.

In conclusion, while mediators typically aim to remove emotions and aggression from the situations at hand, they are not always truly removing them, but burying them instead. To allow the disputants to better evaluate the true needs and wants of each party and genuinely rid any aggression, it is wise for the mediator to have an understanding of what the underlying causes of the aggression are and working with the disputants to resolve not only their situation but also their feelings.

Contrary to traditional thought, this can be done without the mediator taking sides or involving their own emotions and will actually better follow the traditional concept of removing emotions by truly solving them. Providing this opportunity will allow the disputants to move toward a more peaceful and long-lasting settlement that both parties actively participated in, as opposed to walking away after a difficult mediation process with unwilling participants and lasting negative emotions that may require the need for mediation again in the near future. It is beneficial for all parties involved to address this behavior.

What This Means:

This article concludes that:

  • Aggression prohibits a smooth mediation process, as mediation requires the disputants to willingly participate and work toward solutions, and aggression often leads to negative behavior and emotions for all parties involved and a lack of compromise and understanding.
  • Aggression and underlying emotions are common in situations requiring mediation, and rather than simply ignoring them, it is more beneficial for the mediator and disputants to resolve the underlying issues.
  • Aggression can be useful for a mediator in understanding what the needs and desires of the aggressor are, as this behavior is often at the cost of defending or desiring something.
  • When following the steps below, a mediator can successfully diffuse aggression and have the disputants working more effectively together:
    • Address the aggression early on in the process and consistently deal with it
    • Have the disputants discuss appropriate behavior and agree on certain rules
    • As a mediator, act with self-control and hold yourself accountable to the same rules as set by the disputants
    • Address negative behavior and aggression in private so as to not embarrass the disputant or make the situation worse
    • Unmask the underlying causes for the aggression and what the aggressor is defending or desiring
    • Ensure the problems are removed from the people involved (i.e., that the disputants might be upset at the issues at hand, but not the other person)

Final Takeaway

For consultants: When mediating where aggression is present in one or all disputants, recognize the emotions and possible underlying causes at hand while remaining neutral yourself — this can allow the disputants to feel recognized and validated, diffuse the emotions at hand, and create an overall smoother process with a better settlement.
For everyone: In our individual lives, we have all been the aggressor or been on the receiving end of aggression within our relationships or workplaces. When we are the aggressors, it is important we self-reflect to understand what is causing that aggression and how can we problem-solve for it. When we are on the receiving end of aggression, it is worth evaluating what is causing it in the other person (whether by asking them or thinking about when/why it started) and working toward a positive resolution between both parties.

Natalie Davis

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