Long ago, I learned that outside events can affect a person’s mood at mediation. One example is traffic- fighting traffic to get to a mediation on time will affect the negotiation process. For this reason,  I try to schedule mediations after rush hour so at least the parties are not in a &^%$#* mood when they arrive.

My personal  revelation was recently confirmed in a blog post on the Harvard PONS website, entitled “How Mood Affects Negotiators” by the PON Staff (October 10, 2019).

In one study, Robert Lount and Keith J. Murnighan of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University studied the effect of specific emotions in negotiations. To do this, they had the participants play the classic trust game:

 In this game, which is typically played for real money, player 1, the ‘trustor,’ must decide how much of $10 to give to player 2, the recipient. Player 2 receives three times the amount given by player 1; player 2 then must decide how much (if any) of this expanded total to give to player 1. The efficient solution is for player 1 to give the full $10 to player 2, who can then divide the $30 between them.

In their version, before beginning the game, Lount and Murnighan asked some trustors to write about an experience that made them happy and asked other trustors to write about an experience that made them sad. They then played the trust game. Among “happy” trustors, 53% gave recipients the full $10; only 21% of sad trustors did the same. On average, happy trustors gave away $6.76 and sad trustors gave away $5.58. (Id.)

Clearly, the mood of the “negotiator” affected how much or little she “trusted” the other party.

So, as the blog points out, if you get into an auto accident on the way to a negotiation, that will clearly affect your mood and thus your negotiation.  While you think that you can block what happened out of your thoughts and focus on the negotiation at hand, in reality, you cannot. Unconsciously, those negative  emotions will still be there and affect how you negotiate.  Indeed, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman showed in a study that “Americans become most distressed when commuting or talking to their bosses.” (Id.)

More notably, if you have negotiated with that party before, the emotional history of those earlier emotions will rise up within you, as well. If the other person was difficult to deal with in past negotiations,  your emotions affected by that difficult behavior will come into play- perhaps without you even realizing it! These “incidental emotions” or “feelings unrelated to the negotiation at hand” will definitely effect the outcome of the present discussions! (Id.)

How to avoid this? First and foremost is awareness: Be aware that unrelated events such as traffic are triggering your behavior at a negotiation. To diffuse it, talk about the horrible commute or the  horrible incident giving rise to the negative emotion to get it out of your system and to diffuse it. (Id.)  Do this before  “getting down to business.”

So… my notion that events outside of mediation will affect our mood and thus our settlement potential is not so far fetched after all. Perhaps I should start scheduling mediations after midnight when there is little traffic on the Los Angeles freeways! (But then will sleep deprivation create its own negative emotion ?)

….  Just something to think about!


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