Mediations have a lot to do with trust. Not only must each party have some trust in the mediator but also should have at least a minimal degree of trust in the other side. If everyone completely distrusts everyone else in the mediation, there will be no resolution. In fact, the mediation will probably be a waste of time.

But, while complete distrust is not good for mediations, neither is complete trust. An article on the Harvard Pons negotiation website entitled “Dear Negotiation Coach: The Hidden Benefits of Mistrust in Negotiation” by the staff (February  23, 2021) notes that a certain amount of distrust is actually beneficial:

[While]…interpersonal factors such as trust, liking and rapport are associated with more favorable outcomes….

[T]here is a downside to experiencing trust in negotiation. A sense of trust leads us to accept information at face value. Feelings of mistrust in negotiations, by contrast, alert us to consider how reality might differ from what meets the eye. (Id.)

This conclusion resulted from two studies on decision making. In one experiment, Ruth Mayo and Dana Alfasi of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Norbert Schwartz of the University of  Southern California in Los Angeles, Ca. “…found that participants who were naturally less trusting than others were more likely to select evidence that they expected to be contrary to their assumptions…as compared with participants who were naturally more trusting.”  (Id.)

In another study, researchers looked at the notion of trust in the context of integrative bargaining. They had pairs of college students negotiate a hypothetical home repair dispute between a carpenter and the condo owner. In half of the pairs, the researchers made one side experience distrust  while in the other half of the pairs, the researchers made one side experience trust. (No doubt, using priming!)

What the researchers found should come as no surprise:

We found that pairs in the distrust condition were more likely to test their assumptions about the other side—such as their constraints, willingness to pay, and likely moves—by asking many more questions of the other party. As a result, the distrusting negotiators walked away with a much more accurate picture of the other side’s interests and demands. Somewhat paradoxically, a level of distrust helped negotiators discuss issues more thoroughly and reach more integrative agreements as compared with pairs where one party was instilled with feelings of trust before negotiating. (Id.)

In teaching the rudiments of mediation, I emphasize  the importance of a mediator building trust and rapport with the parties and then, as the mediator, attempting to have each party have some trust in the other side. What this article shows, is that like everything else, too much of a good thing is no good. While trust is important, too much of it can be  detrimental to reaching a completely satisfying  resolution.  So, while it is okay to like and trust the other party, do not do it completely -maintain a little  skepticism!

… Just something to think about.


Do you like what you read?

If you would like to receive this blog automatically by e mail each week, please click on one of the following plugins/services:

and for the URL, type in my blog post address: and then type in your e mail address and click "submit".

Copyright 2021 Phyllis G. Pollack and, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Phyllis G. Pollack and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.