Words Are All I Have: Linguistic Cues as Predictors of Settlement in Divorce Mediation

  • Mara Olekalns
  • Jeanne Brett
  • William Donohue


What we say conveys information about how we perceived our relationships with others. In this research, we draw on Relational Order Theory (ROT) to analyze how words associated with affiliation (liking) affect the outcome of child custody mediations. We found that two indicators of relational distance—pronouns and the expression of emotions—were associated with agreement. In successful mediations, disputants decreased their use of third person pronouns, negative emotions and anger over time. The differential use of I by husbands and wives affected agreements, which were more likely if wives used I frequently in the first quarter of the mediation. Convergence to wives positive emotions also affected outcomes: agreement was reached when husbands converged to wives high levels of positive emotion, whereas impasses occurred when husbands converged to wives low levels of positive emotion. We discuss implications for extending ROT and for the practice of mediation.

Keywords: mediation, communication, relational order theory, child custody, affiliation, divorce

How to Cite:

Olekalns, M. & Brett, J. & Donohue, W., (2010) “Words Are All I Have: Linguistic Cues as Predictors of Settlement in Divorce Mediation”, Negotiation and Conflict Management Research 3(2), 145-168. doi:

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Published on
31 Mar 2010
Peer Reviewed