By Steven G. Mehta

One of the advantages of having a mediator is the fact that the mediator is neutral and not so closely connected to the case.  A recent study has confirmed this concept by showing that people who solve problems for others are more creative than those who are thinking of solutions for themselves.

According to Evan Polman and Kyle Emich, we’re more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of strangers than for ourselves.   Studies have previously shown that the more our distance to a matter is, the more abstractly we can imagine a solution to the problem.

According to several studies done by Polman and Emich, participants were more creative in solutions across the board when they were less connected to the issue.  For example, participants drew more original aliens for a story to be written by someone else than for a story they were to write themselves.  Participants also thought of more original gift ideas for an unknown student completely unrelated to themselves, as opposed to one who they were shared the same birth month.  Finally, people were better able to create an escape route from a trapped tower if were thinking of someone else trapped in the tower, rather than themselves.

The study dealt with unknown people.  But it could be affected if we knew who the person was we were helping.  According to the researchers, it will make a difference who we think we’re solving a problem for.

As a mediator, this concept makes sense.  One of the reasons that parties come to mediators is because of the intellectual distance.  The mediator can neutrally evaluate the case and facts from a distance.  In doing so, sometimes the mediator is able to see a solution the parties might not have otherwise have seen in the first place.   As a mediator, it is also important to make sure to not get too closely aligned with one side or the other so as to maintain the ability to see the forest through the trees.