Tim Hicks, of the University of Oregon, Contributor to Elizabeth Bader's Blog
Tim Hicks

In this post, Tim Hicks presents his reflections on the neuroscience of mediation, and the IDR Cycle in mediation, by exploring the neuroscience of knowing and identity. (The concept of the  “IDR cycle,” as applied to mediation, was first articulated in Elizabeth’s Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Review article.)

About Tim Hicks

Tim Hicks is a mediator/facilitator in private practice.  His firm, Connexus Conflict Management, provides assistance with communication, problem solving and decision-making to individuals and organizations. From 2006 to 2014, he was the first director of the master’s degree program in Conflict and Dispute Resolution at the University of Oregon.  Before that, he was a mediator in private practice for 14 years. Prior to his mediation career, he and his wife started and managed two successful businesses, one that grew to 150+ employees.

Tim works in three primary sectors – family and divorce, workplace/organizational, and multi-party public decision making.

Tim is the co-author of the book “The Process of Business/Environmental Collaborations: Partnering for Sustainability”, author of the article “Another Look At Identity-Based Conflict: The Roots of Conflict in the Psychology of Consciousness” (Negotiation Journal, Vol. 17, #1, January 2001), and “Embodied Conflict: Perspectives on the Neurophysiology of Conflict” (forthcoming fall 2015). He is also the author of a novel on climate change, Last Stop Tomorrow, available in paperback and as an eBook.

Here are Tim’s insightful comments on the IDR Cycle.


The IDR cycle proposes a theoretical understanding of a pattern that negotiators may often experience from initial entry into the negotiation to, when things go well, a successful conclusion. The psychological experience that the theory proposes is well-supported by what we believe to be true of the neurophysiology of learning, knowing, memory, and identity.

This brief commentary on Bader’s IDR cycle ties the three phases of the cycle to some of the basic aspects of embodied consciousness. (For current research on embodied mind, see, for example, work by Don Tucker, Gerard Edelman, Antonio Damasio, Ben Bergen, Lawrence Barsalou, Vittorio Gallese, Mark Johnson, David Geary and George Lakoff.)

Knowing, Identity and Neural Structure:  The Need for a Balance Between Stability and Flexibility

In communication and negotiation with another, we are dealing with what people “know” and “believe.” Our “knowings” are encoded in neural structures, physical parts of our bodies, what I call neural matrices of meaning. When we speak of people “changing their minds” we are speaking literally as well as figuratively. What we know is who we are, at a physical level. Our identity is made up of our complex neural structure.

That structure is, and must be for our “sanity,” relatively stable. It is resistant to change. It is also, to some degree, subject to change, what we call “learning.”   There is a balance or mix of stability and plasticity. Too much of either will be a problem. Too much stability and we are rigid and immune to learning. Too much plasticity and we lose our identity, our knowledge structure collapses, we go crazy.

So, we have a certain attachment to our “knowings.” To change our minds, we have to lose a part of ourselves, a part of our identity. That is why changing our minds can feel quite uncomfortable. When you agree with me, you confirm my identity and my understanding of what is real. This is reassuring. I like you. When you disagree with me, you challenge my identity and my understanding of what is real. This is disturbing. I experience you as a threat.

Support for the IDR Cycle in the Neurophysiology of Knowing and Identity 

So, coming back to the IDR cycle, we come into a negotiation or mediation attached to our view of reality because it is part of our identity. We have a natural tendency to believe that how we see the world is the accurate way to see the world. We need that sense of confidence in our perception of the world. So we tend to enter into negotiations with what is sometimes referred to as optimistic overconfidence. Certainty prevails. We “know” we are right. This is the “inflation” of the IDR cycle.

At one point in the negotiations, we may begin to see that there is more to the story than our view of things. We may be faced with a recognition of the legitimacy of at least part of the other’s point of view. Uncertainty creeps in. Maybe I’m wrong. Depending on how important the issue is, how deeply connected to fundamental elements of our world view and our view of ourselves, our identity, to be faced with the prospect of having to let go of part of our understanding of the world, to change our narrative of the issues being negotiated, can be disturbing. This is the “deflation” of the IDR cycle. We are losing a part of ourselves. We will be more or less resistant depending on a number of factors.

If we can get past our resistance to change, if we can accept a new story, an expanded story that takes into account some of the information arriving from our negotiating partner, if we can let go of some of our previous knowings, we will get to the “resolution” of the IDR cycle, realistic only in that it embodies the new reality. In that state, we are a new person. We have changed. We have let go of our old self and have become a new self with a new and, hopefully, more expanded reality construct. We will have a new identity, a new understanding of the world, a new set of neural matrices of meaning.

Thus, the IDR cycle concept in negotiation and mediation is well supported by our current understanding of the embodied self and the neural bases of knowing, learning, understanding, memory, and identity.