The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. IV, 9/04

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Interpersonal Intelligence

About Us

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
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Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
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Welcome back to school, and to the September issue of The School Mediator. We are excited to begin our fourth year of publication, and School Mediation Associates' 20th year serving schools!

This month's issue explores the close connection between "interpersonal intelligence" and peer mediation.

As always, please send along your thoughts and experiences.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Interpersonal Intelligence

  • *Seeing multiple points of view
    *Intuiting other's feelings and sensing other's motives
    *Practicing empathy
    *Facilitating communication between people
    *Working collaboratively in groups
    *Teaching someone else something new
    *Creating group rules
    *Conducting an interview
    *Giving and receiving feedback

    A description of what peer mediators do?

    Sort of.

    The list above was posted online to help educators work successfully with students who have a high level of what Howard Gardner calls "interpersonal intelligence." It suggests the sorts of activities that would most interest these students.

    As you can see, a striking overlap exists between what mediators must do well to be effective, and what people who are "interpersonally intelligent" do quite naturally and enjoyably.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Gardner's theory of multiple intelligence---a theory which has had a profound influence not only on the way people think about intelligence, but increasingly, on how we educate children---here is a very brief overview.

    In his now classic Frames of Mind (1983), Gardner first postulated that human intelligence is not a simple, single entity. Instead, he asserted, a variety of quite different types of human intelligences exist.

    In addition to "linguistic" and "mathematical-logical" (the two intelligences upon which traditional schools focus most of their energies), Gardner's list of human intelligences, still expanding to this day, includes musical, spatial, and even a naturalist intelligence.

    Each of us has our own unique "blend of intelligences," with corresponding strengths and weaknesses.

    There is no hierarchy of the intelligences: One is not better than any other in an absolute sense.

    But if you want to design airplanes, you will need "spatial intelligence;" if composing film scores is your goal, we can only hope you have a fair share of "musical intelligence." And, if you want to excel at mediating interpersonal disputes, it simply can't be done without above average "interpersonal intelligence."

    For years I was at a loss to explain why some students are talented mediators even before a training begins, whereas others struggle mightily throughout. I knew it was not a matter of academic ability, or desire to learn, or even maturity.

    Now, thanks to Gardner's work, I understand that the "natural mediators" are blessed with a high degree of the specific intelligence most essential to mediating: interpersonal intelligence.

    Of course, the intelligences rarely operate alone, and interpersonal intelligence is not the only kind necessary to mediate well. Mediators need "linguistic intelligence" to express themselves effectively, and "logical-mathematical intelligence" to detect patterns and draw conclusions about how to interact with parties.

    But were there an accurate test of interpersonal intelligence, I am convinced we could reliably predict who would excel as a mediator, and who would have difficulty.

    The concept of interpersonal intelligence can inform our peer mediation work in a number of ways:

    First, it can clarify what to look for when choosing potential mediators. By selecting students who excel in this intelligence, we are more likely to assemble a talented pool of student mediators.

    Second, we should ensure that the methods we use to evaluate and select potential mediators are suitable indicators of interpersonal intelligence. In this light, some common techniques (e.g., asking peers who they would feel comfortable talking with, conducting face-to-face interviews with candidates) seem more appropriate than others (asking candidates to write an essay about why they want to be a mediator).

    Finally, as researchers learn more about interpersonal intelligence and how to help people develop and refine it, we should incorporate this information into our peer mediation training programs.

    What are your thoughts?... Does the idea of interpersonal intelligence inform your peer mediation work?

    To read a related newsletter, click here.

    More about Howard Gardner and the theory of multiple intelligence

  • About Us
  • For twenty years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

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    Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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