Searching for some inspiration for my next blog post, I came across an article in The Conversation entitled, “How the presence of pets builds trust among people”. Noting that 90 million American households have at least one pet, the author Megan Mueller notes that “… research shows our pets can also strengthen our relationship and trust with other people…. [P]ets contribute positively to trust in our broader social communities.” (Id. at 1.)
Having a pet serves as an ice breaker. I do not know about your dog, but my dog Buddy is very sociable. Whenever he sees another dog on the street during our walks, he whines which is his way of telling me he wants to go over to say “hello” which leads me to having a conversation with the other pet’s owner which in turn may lead to a social relationship and trust.
Indeed, the author of this article notes that “… the presence of an animal can also enhance perceptions of trustworthiness and responsibility, which in turn fosters positive social interactions. Researchers found that people were more likely to help a stranger with a dog than one without a dog, suggesting that a presence of an animal conferred perceptions of trust.” (Id. at 2.)
So- what does this have to do with mediation. May I suggest that bringing a dog to a mediation will certainly act as an ice breaker and help create trust and rapport. Before the pandemic, I had a few mediations in which one attorney would always bring the dog he was training to assist those with a disability other than blindness. Having the dog present definitely changed the dynamic of the mediation, easing the tension and keeping everyone calm. And if and when things got tense, we simply took a break and played with the dog for a few moments.
But now my mediations are virtual. Will the presence of a dog make a difference? I think so. The few times that a dog has appeared on the screen (whether mine or someone else’s), his/her presence has acted as an ice breaker- a brief time out. We spend a few moments talking about the dog and thus getting to know each other. Such conversation suddenly makes us all a bit more human and kindred souls. Undoubtedly, one of the others also has a dog and so he/she becomes part of the conversation, if not an actual “show and tell” in which he/she, too, is given a bit of screen time. And because we suddenly learn that most of us have dogs-we have a commonality. And research has shown that we like people who are like us. And so, we develop trust and rapport with each other simply because someone’s dog acted as an ice breaker.
Most discussions on negotiation and mediation focus on the more mundane objects and abstract notions as tools in our toolboxes. May I suggest that to that toolbox, we add the idea of including your dog- either with a virtual screen appearance or as a discussion point. If nothing else, it will make for a good “timeout” from the tedium of trying to resolve a thorny issue.
… Just something to think about.
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