Without doubt, litigation produces stress, both to the party and to the attorney representing the party. And mediation can be equally as stressful as it brings up all of the emotions imbedded in the dispute. Consequently, in attempting to resolve the matter at mediation, a party may start with two strikes against them: under stress and emotional!

A recent article in LiveScience entitled Why Stress Makes It Harder to Control Emotions by Rachael Rettner (senior writer) discusses a study that found that “… experiencing mild stress in everyday life may interfere with people’s ability to use strategies to control their emotions….” (Id.). The article notes that the study found that certain strategies often used to control emotions simply may not work during times of stress. That is, cognitive behavior therapy may not always work:

In the new study, 78 participants viewed pictures of snakes and spiders. Some pictures were paired with an electric shock, and participants eventually developed a fear of these pictures. (They reported more intense feelings of fear when viewing the pictures, and a skin conductance tested showed they were more physiological

[sic] aroused, compared with when they viewed images not paired with a shock.)

Next, the participants were taught therapeutic strategies, like those used in clinics, to reduce the fear induced by these pictures.

The next day, participants were randomly assigned to either place their hands in icy water for three minutes – a technique used in experiments to induce mild stress – or to place their hands in warm water.

Those who placed their hands in warm water showed a reduced fear response when they viewed the pictures of snakes and spiders, indicating that the participants were able to use the techniques they’d learned the previous day to control their emotions.

However, those who placed their hands in icy water showed no reduction in fear compared to the previous day. (Id.)

To the researchers this result indicated that in order to get the prefrontal cortex area of the brain not to be so sensitive to stress (such as placing one’s hand in icy water and trying to stay calm), one needs to practice, practice, practice so that calmness under stress becomes second nature.

A second article in LiveScience discussed a study finding what many of us figured out long ago: Getting Others Mad May Be A Winning Strategy. In this article, Stephanie Pappas (Senior Writer) discusses a study conducted by Uri Gneezy, a behavioral economist at the University of California San Diego that showed that while getting someone angry just before he/she must complete a physical task may actually improve that person’s strength and performance, getting your adversary angry just prior to his/her undertaking a task requiring strategy and skill may actually handicap that performance. Thus, for example, should one player trash talk (i.e., insult) his opponent during the upcoming Super Bowl Game, it may cause the opponent to improve the strength and speed of his tackle or his speed in running down the field with the ball, but it will also decrease his ability to think clearly and use the right strategy on that defensive/offensive play.

So putting these two studies together, what do we have? During any negotiation or mediation, practice calming strategies and ignore the other party’s trash talk or attempted manipulation of your emotions; both of which may get you angry causing you to lose control and make a bad decision!

…. Just something to think about.

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