By Steven G. Mehta

In mediation, people often make statements that distort the truth of what they are really feeling.  They undertake to create cognitive distortions.  Cognitive distortions are defined as exaggerated and irrational thoughts.  As mediators and negotiators, we need to find ways to address these irrational thoughts and help them eliminate the distortions.  In doing so, it can help to arrive at a solution.  I am writing a series of posts on cognitive distortions and how to handle them.


Most people overgeneralize.  O.K. that was an overgeneralization.  Overgeneralization is taking a single negative or positive experience and expecting it to forever be true.  A party may say that I won a similar argument before, therefore I will win it again.  They may also say “my experience with the other side is that they will always lie.”  Based on an overgeneralization, they predict the outcome of the future.

THE SOLUTION: ask questions to determine the source of the overgeneralization.  Get the party to recognize the differences between the prior case and this one:  The judge, the court, the opposing side, the facts, the unique aspect of this case.  Also inquire if they believe that because they won the last matter, they will win this one.  If they say yes, then ask why.  This should open a dialogue on the flaw of the Overgeneralization.  It may also be helpful to reflect on times where a single experience did not have the same long lasting outcome.