School has started. More specifically, I have returned as a lecturer in law at  USC’s Gould School of Law teaching ADR Ethics. And, I must say, the first class was very lively.

The topic was negotiation ethics. And, at one point, I noted that as a mediator, the most important things I need to accomplish at the start of every mediation is to build trust and a relationship. In response, I was asked, “How do  you do that?” I  said, “Be yourself, be sincere.” Or, be authentic.

Well, the Harvard Business Review has a slightly different answer to the question of  how to build trust. In an article entitled, “The Simplest Way to Build Trust” by David DeSteno (posted June 2, 2014), the author states that the simplest way to do this,

“…is to employ one of the mind’s most basic mechanisms for determining loyalty: the perception of similarity. If you can make someone feel a link with you, his empathy and willingness to cooperate with you will increase.”  (Id. at 1.)

 As an example, he refers to an incident occurring during World War I in Ypres, Belgium on December 24, 1914:

“…The British and the Germans had been fighting a long and bloody battle… [T]he British soldiers began to see lights and hear songs from across the field that separated their trenches from those of their foes. They soon recognized that the lights were candles and the songs were Christmas carols. What happened next was rather amazing. The men from both sides came out of their trenches and began to celebrate Christmas together. Men who had hours before been trying to kill each other were now sharing trinkets and family photos in complete trust that no violence would occur. …” (Id.)

The author speculates that the reason was “similarity.”. Suddenly, the men from  both sides saw themselves as fellow Christians, not as enemies. (Id.)

And, indeed, an experiment bore this out. Participants were asked to put on earphones across from another person who was an actor. The participants were asked to keep the beat to the music they heard through the earphones. In some cases, the actor also kept the beat which the participants could see. In other cases, the actor would randomly tap, not keeping any sort of beat.

The researchers then asked the participants to help the actor with an onerous task. They found that only 18% of the participants would come to the aid of the actor who did not keep the beat in synchronization with them. But, 50% of the participants would come to the aid of the actor who keep the beat in sync with them. (Id. at 2.)

So- affiliation is important. If one can find something in common with the other party, it will create “similarity” in the mind of the other and lead to trust. The affiliation can be anything, be it the same high school, or college, same favorite sports team, or same favorite restaurant or even being a dog lover. Indeed, I recently found out that I was retained to conduct a mediation because of my law school affiliation.

Finding something in common with the other persons at the start of a negotiation or mediation helps tremendously in building trust which in  turn will help in resolving the dispute.

…. Just something to think about.




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