About AlysounBoyle

Alysoun has a PhD from the University of Newcastle (2020) and her main area of interest is empirical research methods. Her major research project applied a metaresearch approach to empirical studies of mediation, in an effort to find out what is known about mediator effectiveness. In addition to ADR Research Network, she is a founding member of ADRAC, a member of the Law & Society Association (USA), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She was a member of the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Dispute Resolution Task Force on Research on Mediator Techniques until that Task Force's disbandment following publication of its Final Report in 2017. She is a Director of National Mediation Conferences Ltd. Alysoun is an experienced DR practitioner and educator/trainer. She is also the Call Out Officer for her local brigade in the NSW Rural Fire Service. Contact: alysounboyle@gmail.com

National Mediation Conference 2019: Call for Abstracts

NMC2019 logo and brand


The Conference Design Committee has released the Call for Abstracts for NMC2019.  The dedicated website provides guidelines, key dates, and an electronic submission pro forma.  Only electronic submissions will be accepted, and they must arrive by the due date of 5 October this year:


There are eleven Conference Streams (in alphabetical order):

  • Approaches to Indigenous dispute management and decision-making processes.  Key words: Governance; peace-building; evaluation; effective policy & services.
  • Business and construction, workplace and employment.  Keywords: DR clauses in contracts; business, construction and workplace arbitration; industrial and employment DR; innovation in business and workplace DR; international commercial dispute resolution; evidence in commercial and business disputes.
  • Community-focused mediation, and other community-focused processes.  Keywords: Conflict coaching; alternative approaches; environmental DR; multi-party, consultative, and whole-of-community processes; innovative approaches; evidence-based approaches.
  • Conciliation, including public and private advisory processes, and statutory programs.  Keywords: Evidence-based approaches; conciliation, evaluative mediation, advisory dispute resolution, hybrid dispute resolution; statutory programs and processes; conciliation training, standards, and accreditation.
  • Court-connected DR services, including services associated with courts and tribunals.   Keywords: Mandatory DR; judicial DR; artificial intelligence; theoretical frameworks; evidence-based approaches; current developments.
  • Dispute System Design, online DR, and technological innovations.  Keywords: Theoretical frameworks; current developments; sociocultural influences; innovative approaches & applications; artificial intelligence; evidence-based approaches.
  • Elder mediation and other developing specialist areas of practice.   Keywords: Elder mediation; age-related issues; Elder abuse; Elder law; new specialist approaches; evidence-based approaches.
  • Family mediation and dispute resolution, including Family Dispute Resolution (FDR).   Keywords: Child inclusive and child focussed processes; family and domestic violence; parenting plans, including shared parenting; parental responsibility; property and financial matters; mandatory FDR; confidentiality; lawyer assisted FDR; family group conferencing.
  • Peace-building, transitional justice, reconciliation, and civil society.   Keywords: Sociocultural influences, including: intra-cultural, cross-cultural and multi-cultural approaches; discourse analysis; evidence-based approaches; innovative approaches.
  • Research, training, and education: building a rigorous evidence base for DR. Keywords: Research design, empirical methodologies, program evaluations; standards & accreditation; innovative research; evidence-based approaches to training and education.
  • Restorative justice and other innovative approaches.  Keywords: Circles, conferencing, mediation; theoretical frameworks; current developments; innovative approaches; evidence-based approaches.

When assessing proposals, the Committee will give priority to the following criteria:

  • The introduction of new and innovative concepts not previously canvassed or fully explored in the sector;
  • Where applicable, the rigour of any research that will be included in the presentation, or on which the proposal relies;
  • The inclusion of credible demonstration of the importance of the subject matter to the mediation, or DR field, and to the preferred Conference Stream;
  • The inclusion of intercultural, cross-cultural and/or multicultural considerations;
  • The potential appeal of the proposal to a broad spectrum of delegates; the proposal should include appropriate comments if it would appeal more to one cross-section of the sector (e.g. newly trained practitioners, or experienced practitioners);
  • The demonstrated capacity of the proposal to allocate appropriate time for coverage of the topic, and, if for a panel, to include all presenters; and
  • The title of the proposal conveying to delegates what they can expect from the session.

We look forward to considering your proposals as we prepare for 2019 being a belated celebration of NMC’s 25th Anniversary.


NMC2019 logo and brand



Some questions about empathy and rapport


This article reports on a side-issue that has arisen within a much larger research project. A separate part of the large research project was presented to the ADRRN at its last Round Table in December 2017.

Empathy and rapport are complex aspects of human interaction, and there is a significant literature on them dating back at least to Alfred Adler in the 1920s.  The literature occurs principally in the research fields that include sociology, linguistics, neuroscience, social psychology, and cognitive psychology.  In essence, empathy is accepted as being able to identify with another person, to understand what it might be like to be that person, while simultaneously retaining your own sense of self and maintaining your own sense of emotional control.  It has been established that empathy and rapport are essential prerequisites for building trust and maintaining effective communication, and that establishing empathy will increase a person’s sense of satisfaction with business services.  Empathy has been said to be underpinned by what are called the “rules of communicative competence” by which individuals calculate the appropriate levels for relating to others depending upon cultural and personal influences at any given time.  Where one person has high levels of communicative competence, in any given situation, they remain sufficiently aware of the presence of others that their behavioural and linguistic preferences will enable them to assume an appropriate level of relationship with those other people.  These rules of communicative competence have since become better known as the “Rules of Rapport”

It is widely accepted that empathy and rapport are different states.  Research in other fields has shown that empathy plays an important role in developing rapport, rapport plays an important role in developing trust, and trust plays an important role in creating a cooperative atmosphere in which mutually beneficial outcomes can be crafted.  However, understanding and acknowledgement of the differentiations in that sequence is rare in the mediation literature, as are explanations of how the researchers intend any of the terms to be interpreted in the context of their study.

Given what is known about empathy and rapport, it is a pity that the mediation literature includes very little about what mediators actually say and do to establish an empathic relationship with and between the disputants in any particular mediation; nor what the mediators say and do that enables that empathy to contribute to building rapport and trust.  For example, researchers often report a general sense of what mediators say (e.g. the mediator described the mediation process), or of what the mediators do (e.g., the mediator created an atmosphere suitable for negotiation), yet they do not report what the subject mediator actually said or did: when the mediator described the mediation process, did they use formal or less formal language, did they speak to the disputants jointly or separately (or both), what was the mediator’s tone of voice and demeanour (It has been reported elsewhere that actual demeanour is important in the development of empathy and rapport)?  What did the mediator say and do that created a sense of the atmosphere being suitable for negotiation?

There is a reasonable amount of research outside the field of mediation that has reported on how empathy and rapport are established and the range of effects they can have (e.g., improving witness recollection, and increasing engagement in and commitment to business relationships).  It is likely that, because of mediation’s essential links to conflict, empirical studies of mediators and of mediation would be a significant contribution to knowledge about empathy, rapport and trust.  Well-designed, rigorous empirical studies could investigate: how can empathy, rapport, and trust be established in situations of conflict; how do the indicators of empathy, rapport, and trust differ in the context of conflict; how do the effects of empathy, rapport, and trust differ in the context of mediation generally (compared with other contexts); how do they differ between mediations conducted in different contexts?

How much does the establishment of empathy, and the building of rapport, influence the often-reported mediator experience of disputants and other participants reporting high levels of satisfaction with the mediation process despite not having achieved any form of settlement?

Finally, during all the emphasis on the mediator’s role in establishing empathy and building rapport, have we forgotten a different perspective: how often do the disputants seek to establish an empathic relationship with the mediator?

Some Readings and Sources

  1. Adler, Understanding Human Nature (Greenburg, New York, USA, 1927).
  2. J. Clark, ‘Empathy and Alfred Adler: An Integral Perspective’ (2016) 72(4) The Journal of Individual Psychology.
  3. Lietz, K. E. Gerdes, F. Sun, J. M. Geiger, M. A. Wagaman, and E. A. Segal, ‘The Empathy Assessment Index (EAI): A Confirmatory Factor Analysis of a Multidimensional Model of Empathy’ (2011) 2(2) Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research.
  4. Madsen, Therapeutic Jurisprudence in Investigative Interviews: the effects of a humanitarian rapport-oriented and a dominant non-rapport oriented approach on adult’s memory performance and psychological well-being, PhD Thesis, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Abo Akademi University, Finland, 2017.
  5. Davis, L. Jiang, P. Williams, A. Drolet, and B. J. Gibbs, ‘Predisposing Customers to be More Satisfied by Inducing Empathy in Them’ (2017) 58(3) Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.
  6. T. Lakoff, Stylistic Strategies within a Grammar of Style (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, USA, 1979).
  7. Tannen, ‘Framing and Face: the Relevance of the Presentation of Self to Linguistic Discourse Analysis’ (2009) 72(4) Social Psychology Quarterly.
  8. Zaki, ‘Empathy: A Motivated Account’ (2014) 140(6) Psychological Bulletin.
  9. Holmberg and K. Madsen, ‘Rapport Operationalized as a Humanitarian Interview in Investigative Interview Settings’ (2014) 21(4) Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law.
  10. P Vallano, J. R. Evans, N. S. Compo, and J. M. Kieckhaefer, ‘Rapport-Building During Witness and Suspect Interviews: A Survey of Law Enforcement’ (2015) 29 Applied Cognitive Psychology.
  11. Holmberg and K. Madsen, ‘Rapport Operationalized as a Humanitarian Interview in Investigative Interview Settings’ (2014) 21(4) Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law.

National Mediation Conference Canberra 15 – 17 April 2019

“Over the Horizon: Expanding the Dispute Resolution Landscape”

Celebrating 25 years of NMC


Mountain tops 2018

The Conference Design Committee is focused on providing a landmark conference that will interest equally the seasoned professionals as well as the new comers, and has already flagged its lean towards innovation by suggesting some new integrated conference streams devoted to: innovation in the sector, indigenous issues, Restorative Justice, and research and education.  These will complement the traditional areas and topics.  The Committee is keen to see all areas of the sector being welcomed to the conference, including lawyers, conciliators, academics, and facilitators.

Members of the Conference Design Committee come from all around Australia, and include some of Australia’s top DR thinkers; there are people who have worked on previous NMC events, and people who are new to the task.  Each brings their own expertise to contribute to the design and population of the conference.  In addition to designing the conference program, they are overseeing preparation of the Call for Papers, which is scheduled for distribution in July this year, and have agreed to apply their own rigour to the final selection of presentations.  Consideration is also being given to ensuring the conference program and format can meet the needs and expectations of DR academics.

The Committee is intent on designing a conference that:

  • reinvigorates this important DR event
  • maintains a balance between practice and theory/research; between interactive and didactic presentation formats; and between formal and informal styles of presentation
  • takes into account the application of DR skills in areas that are not focused on disputes and conflict

All power to the Conference Design Committee.

NMC Ltd is a company with statutory responsibilities.  A Board of Directors has been appointed, on a voluntary basis, to oversee this aspect of the conference, and is undertaking a comprehensive review of the company’s governance, constitution, protocols, and purpose.  Although this is very much a “behind the scenes” activity, it is pivotal to NMC Ltd’s ongoing viability.  Thank you to the Board of Directors, and, in particular, to Professor Laurence Boulle AM for Chairing the Board.

Conference Logistics is the professional conference organiser for NMC2019, and they are providing valuable administrative and logistical support for both the Conference Design Committee and NMC Ltd’s Board of Directors.  Their staff are currently working on a conference design/logo that celebrates the silver anniversary, and on developing a dedicated website that will enable registration for the automatic receipt of email updates in the lead-up to NMC2019.

In summary, the Conference Design Committee is already focusing on attracting, and welcoming, all areas of the sector; ensuring that DR research is an integral part of the package; and taking an innovative approach to the design and content of what is already shaping up to be a great event.

We may have been late out of the blocks, but you can already smell the excitement.

[illustration copyright 2018 ABoyle]