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Humor in civil case mediations: A functional approach

  • Christopher Robert

    Christopher Robert (PhD University of Illinois) is the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Research in the Department of Management in the Trulaske College of Business at the University of Missouri. His research focuses on humor at work, conflict and negotiation, and cross-cultural management.

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    and James A. Wall

    James A. Wall, Jr. (PhD University of North Carolina) is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Management in the Trulaske College of Business at the University of Missouri. His research has focused on negotiation and mediation, and he is a long-standing member with leadership roles in the International Association for Conflict Management, and the Conflict Management division of the Academy of Management.

From the journal HUMOR

Abstract

This study investigates humor by mediators and disputants in 95 civil case mediations. Consistent with the majority of the humor literature, as well as with the descriptive and prescriptive literature on mediation, we found that some humor was used by mediators and disputants in a “nice” and affiliative way, to control tension and to facilitate amicable relationships. Some of that humor also came in the form of reciprocal back-and-forth banter or in a positive and affiliative form that was unrelated to the mediation itself. However, many incidents of humor were harsh, as well as aggressive, and that humor often served specific functions within the mediation context. Mediators, and, to a lesser extent, disputants, used humor as a means of applying pressure to another party. Disputants, but seldom mediators, used humor defensively, to counter the pressure applied to them. We discuss how our results stand in contrast to the conventional wisdom about humor; we extend humor and conflict theory by integrating theory and perspectives on power; and we explain how our findings might extend to various social situations that involve power differentials between parties.

About the authors

Christopher Robert

Christopher Robert (PhD University of Illinois) is the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Research in the Department of Management in the Trulaske College of Business at the University of Missouri. His research focuses on humor at work, conflict and negotiation, and cross-cultural management.

James A. Wall Jr

James A. Wall, Jr. (PhD University of North Carolina) is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Management in the Trulaske College of Business at the University of Missouri. His research has focused on negotiation and mediation, and he is a long-standing member with leadership roles in the International Association for Conflict Management, and the Conflict Management division of the Academy of Management.

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Published Online: 2019-05-16
Published in Print: 2019-08-27

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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