The Angry Introvert, Setting the Pace of Mediation

By Sherman Knight.

The Angry Introvert, Setting the Pace of Mediation.

By: Sherman Knight

We have all heard it before. Nothing really happens in mediation until after 4PM. True, participants are tired by the end of the business day which many assume is “the” prime motivator for resolution. I believe there is another reason, especially in smaller cases involving small businesses, homeowners, property line disputes, contractor/subcontractor issues or any dispute where one party is a partnership of two or more people or businesses requiring unanimous approval for resolution. In most of these cases the pace of the mediation is typically controlled by a common personality trait. The angry introvert.

Are You an Introvert?

I was surprised to learn that fifty seven percent of the population in the US is an introvert. This means that at mediation it is more likely than not, that a decision maker(s) for one of the parties will be an introvert.

It is also more likely than not, that if one of the parties has more than one decision maker (business partner, joint ownership, spouse etc), that one of them will be an introvert. Shared decision making is difficult on a good day, so a discussion concerning accepting an offer may sound something like this:

Extravert: “OK, I think that covers the issue; let’s make a decision.”

Introvert: “No, we need to think about it.”

Extravert: “What do you mean, ‘we need to think about it?’ We just thought about it. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Introvert: “No, we’ve been talking about it; now we need to think about it.”

Extravert: “What have we been doing for the past hour? I just don’t understand you sometimes.”

I was also surprised to learn that my preconceived understanding of the difference between an introvert and an extrovert was far from correct. Like most, I had focused on introverts outward appearance, actions and reactions to certain events, and words like shy, cautious and restrained.

What I discovered was that the introvert and extrovert simply process the available information differently. Their outward appearance is often a result of their differences in their method of processing.

Extraverts tend to process information using the auditory and speech areas of the brain. As they talk through their thoughts, the ideas become more clarified and more concrete. Business people that needs little information or time to process and known to quickly “pull the trigger” are usually extraverts. Typically, an extravert makes public speaking look easy. Most importantly, the ability of extraverts to feed off the energy of those around them seems to be endless.

Introverts take in the information and then process the information internally – then maybe days later, they tell you what they think often resulting in better decisions than the extrovert. The introvert may be just as good a public speaker, but only if they are given enough time to prepare for it. This type of business person is slower to “pull the trigger” because they need to fully process all the information. Most importantly, their energy levels are quickly worn down and the only way to recharge is to be alone, left to their own thoughts.

Neither of these methods of decision making is better than the other; they are just different. Decisions made too quickly run afoul of the law of unintended consequences requiring revisions to the decision later. Decisions made slowly can often avoid the need to make those revisions later. Often the introvert and the extravert arrive at the same final conclusion, with different methods of processing.

I recently witnessed an example of this in a divorce case. At family gatherings the husband was distant, his mind was somewhere else and unengaged in what was happening around him, so he presented like an introvert. He was also a successful trial attorney and was known for making decisive decisions with little information or need to process all the information.

She was the one that spoke at family gatherings and had an outward going attitude about life. Always laughing with a smile on her face and engaged with everyone around her. However, he complained how long it took her to put together a simple family gathering. How she would struggle for weeks preparing and organizing her note cards so she could get up in front of her own family. He found her attention to detail annoying. Obviously, her processing was much slower and methodical than his. When I presented my impression to the husband that his wife was most likely an introvert, he refused to believe it. Although she presented the outward characteristics of an extrovert, she processed like an introvert.

So before the mediation, I recommended the husband place his notebook of spreadsheets covering the various issues and assets on the kitchen counter before bed without saying anything. When he got up in the morning, the notebook was gone. Three days later, after processing at her speed, she set up a meeting where they had a meaningful discussion. At the end of the meeting, she asked “why didn’t we ever talk like this before?”

Once she was given a chance to process in her own way, the discussion of their dispute could continue. This difference in the way introverts process isn’t limited to disputes, it also occurs when working toward a common goal.

Prior to law school, I worked at an architectural firm with questionable time consuming processes which had resulted in poor morale. I was new to the job and had some ideas. My new boss was brilliant, but introverted. Daily, I would enter her office and start “bouncing” ideas off of her. The conversations were never productive and I could see she was becoming more and more frustrated with me. I’m certain that she was questioning her hiring decision. Frustrated, I stepped back and decided to approach it from a different angle.

I went back to my office and typed my ideas into a lengthy proposal. The next day, instead of my usual bouncing off the walls, I knocked on the door and handed my boss the proposal. “Here are some thoughts I have on some of the design work. Could you take some time and read them over? I’ll check back with you early next week.” Surprised and obviously not expecting this from me, she thanked me and took the paper. The following week I stopped by her office she was visibly more relaxed and enthusiastic. She had set two chairs at the table and copies of my proposal were laid out for review. There were notes and marks, highlights and annotations throughout the paper. We talked for the next two hours about my ideas and hers. Together we came up with some refinements to my proposals and new ideas that neither of us would have thought of alone.

Both of us had the same information and goals, we just needed to process differently.

Just Plain Angry

Anger is triggered when you lose something, a loved one, the loss of money or a simple opportunity. Once triggered, anger becomes a creeping disease. Because introverts processes internally, friends and family may not realize just how angry the introverted personality is and it may not be immediately noticeable at mediation. A party’s anger level may have been creeping for years and somehow the mediator must find a way to restrain it in just a day. Unless the anger of the introvert can be reined in, settlement may not be in the works.

Anger’s effect on a mediation was discussed in a recent survey concerning motivations to settle. Plaintiffs that completed a survey before and after mediation identified four primary motivators – money, fear, anger and justice.

Individuals motivated by money want to ensure they receive “value” for their case. At least as much value as the typical person in their shoes was able to obtain in unrelated cases. Because of differences in cases, no one really knows what that value is so the plaintiff is left with squeezing until the other side stops.

Plaintiffs primarily motivated by fear do not want to try their case. They would rather settle, even for a low amount, than face a jury.

Individuals motivated by anger feel unfairly treated. They perceive they did nothing to deserve what happened to them. Plaintiffs motivated by anger can be persuaded to settle provided the amount offered reflects how the incident altered their life.

Those motivated by justice possess all characteristics of those motivated by anger plus one more. In addition to an amount that reflects their altered life, they become a seeker of justice where they assume the role of moral arbiter, to ensure on one else has to suffer like they did.

It’s no surprise that all parties listed money as the primary motivator for settlement. But after that, motivators of anger or justice were much more important to the plaintiffs than any other participant.

Of plaintiffs surveyed, 74.5% “highly agreed” or “agreed” the settlement figure should be proportional to their sense of anger or need for justice. Only 54.2% of plaintiff attorneys, 58.9% of insurance company claims representatives and 48.9% of defense attorneys shared the plaintiff’s view.

Looking closer at the numbers, the majority of plaintiffs (53.3%) “Highly agree” that the settlement amount should diminish their anger. This compares with 35% of plaintiff attorneys, 2.1% of defense attorneys and 15.4% of insurance company representatives. All of these samplings were relatively unchanged, pre and post mediation.

In mediations that were successful, only one of the four motivators changed between the pre-mediation and the post-mediation surveys. The “highly agreed” anger rating for plaintiffs fell from 53.3% to 27.8%. This last statistic, cutting the plaintiff’s anger in half, clearly indicates that reducing anger is important to a successful mediation.

Prior to mediation, many introverts feel no one is listening to them which may infuriate them even more. As attorneys, we try to extract meaningful facts that directly impact the legal issues and discard the rest. We know what to look for and can often sift through the facts so quickly that to the introvert it appears we may be excluding certain facts before we had a chance to process them. Unfortunately, to the strong introvert, all the facts are equally important until they are all processed, so attorneys quickly dismissing some facts may leave the impression that no one is listening.

The fact that an experienced attorney’s ability to sift through the information quickly is saving money may be lost on the introvert’s need to process.

Anger can be managed a number of ways. Before you can reduce the anger in the room, you first need to make sure that the anger is not inadvertently increased. When the risk of increasing anger is high, shuttle type mediations, typically seen in commercial, contract and construction defect cases places the participants in separate rooms to avoid a face-to-face confrontation.

Private caucus gives both parties a chance to satisfy their need to be heard. To tell their story the way they wanted it told. Without interruption from the bad guys. To make sure the mediator understands the facts and “gets it.”

Strong introverts are driven to process every piece of information whether it is relevant or not. When I recently asked a party to tell their story the way he wanted to tell it, he reached in his brief case and pulled out a 27 page, single spaced historical transcript. In the next 40 minutes, he had reached page three, and had re-told that part of the story several times. It became quickly evident that if we proceed with that level of detail, the mediation would never reach resolution.

Just listening was no longer good enough. I would need to show the party “I get it” long before page twenty-seven.

I had prepared the day before, so after several pages of his transcript, I started a discussion. A two sided discussion which required a prior knowledge of the facts and how it is tangled in the law. Demonstrating a knowledge of the facts shows you “get it” and anger levels fall rapidly. As anger falls, the introvert’s need to tell ALL the facts diminishes.

Because of the preparation, the discussion soon changed to asking the party if I could finish the story. This further streamlined the story with the client filling in some information every now and then. The party began to realize I really did “get it” and his need to fill in the blanks occurred less and less. Anger was reduced again along with the need to tell all the details. He never read past page three.

His attorney did a good job of educating him about the law of contracts and mechanics liens and showing him the appropriate value of various pieces of evidence. But, as a strong angry introvert, he had already made up his mind. He was going to win his case because he heard someone say, “that guy did it to me too.” This introvert was both angry and needed to seek justice. Even though the testimony was hearsay, the client demanded it be presented to a judge. His attorney trying to convince his client to assign a lower value to the evidence is an example of “client management.”

When a mediator demonstrates the reasons to lower the value of a certain piece of evidence, it is known as a “reality check.”

If the mediator cannot demonstrate they “get it” or if forced to move more rapidly than the introvert can comfortably process the information, anger levels and the need to seek justice remain unchanged and the reality check falls on deaf ears.

The Angry Introvert with a Dead Battery

If you really want to slow the pace of mediation, make an introvert angry and then deplete their battery.

Extravert’s batteries are charged by crowded, constantly changing and stressful situations, their energy levels seem endless. On the other hand, the introvert’s personal battery is quickly drained by the same crowded, constantly changing and stressful situations and the introvert cannot process without energy. Surprisingly, an introvert’s battery may fully discharge several times in a daylong mediation.

A drained battery presents itself in the form of emotional shutdown, no longer making eye contact, slumping shoulders or disengaging from the conversation. Remarkably, the introvert’s battery can be quickly recharged. They simply need to be alone. Taking them out in the hall, an empty office or lunchroom is all it takes. Don’t ask them if they understand or try to have a private conversation, they already have too much information. Instead, walk away and just let them think. If they need more information, they will ask for it. It won’t take long, if left alone they may recharge in 10 or 15 minutes.

The most interesting manifestation of a depleted battery presents itself when, in the middle of a sentence, the party suddenly starts talking about a completely unrelated subject or telling jokes. It may appear the mediation is taking a big step backwards or the participant is just being difficult. Their attorney may be frustrated because this has become a reoccurring theme and tries to steer the conversation back on track but is ignored by the client. The introvert’s unrelated discussion is often about their favorite son or daughter, hobby or sport activity. Something that makes them smile. This person’s battery is near depleted, and discussing something off subject or recalling a happy memory will allow them to recharge.

When the battery is sufficiently recharged, the introvert will return to the subject of the mediation and just as quickly as they had checked out and finish the sentence.

The introvert cannot process without battery power. Although an extrovert will see these pauses as a waste of time, the introvert may not be able to accept the offer without them, even if it is a good one.


If all participants at mediation are extreme extroverts, the case may settle before noon. But the chances of a mediation with two extroverts is rare because those cases tend to settle long before mediation.

With a greater level of introversion, anger and a nearly discharged battery comes a dramatically slower pace. Processing time is limited, so it is important to eliminate the low value information and focus on the high value information. If the participants believe the mediator “gets it,” they more readily accept the mediators “reality check.” As anger diminishes, the introvert starts looking seriously at the other side’s offers.

It’s 4:PM.

Nearly every mediation contains at least one angry introvert.

Sherman practiced law for nearly three decades as the owner/partner of his own firm. Prior to the law, he was a licensed Architect and was project lead / construction administrator for custom residential work through hospital expansion projects. Nearly half of his law practice, involved constriction defect issues. Mr. Knight is now retired from Law and is the owner of Knight Dispute Resolution where he mediates and performs as a neutral.

Knight Dispute Resolution