So you have had one bad interaction with opposing counsel or the opposing party.  You would like to make it right.  So one good interaction should make it all better, right?  Wrong.  The reality is that one good interaction does not make up for one bad.  I know this to be true from every time I have a fight with my wife.  One good incident after the fight doesn’t make up for it.  The reality is several good interactions are necessary to make it all right again.

Well interestingly enough some research demonstrates that my anecodotal experience is not necessarily far from the truth.

Psychologist Barbara Frederickson is an expert on flourishing and has been an advocate of finding ways to bring more positive emotions into our lives. In her research she discovered a critical 3 to 1 ratio, indicating that we need to have three positive emotions for every negative one in order to thrive. (via Barking Up the Wrong Tree).  

Another researcher,  Ed Diener, in his book Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, also demonstrated that the number of good interactions to offset a bad interaction depends on the relationship.  His conclusions are set forth in the attached chart.

So what does that mean to negotiations, mediation, and the general world.  A lot:  Your hist0ry can affect your future, and it takes a lot more effort to repair something than it does to break it.  As negotiators, it is far better to try to maintain good relations, because if you don’t it is much harder to come back from a bad impression — especially because your relationship is not as close as some of the relationship in the chart.  Imagine where you as negotiating partners or opposing counsel fall in relation to the closeness of the connection and how many good interactions are necessary to offset one bad one.  I would hope that you can beat the odds of a mother-in-law.  But either way, you are not as close to your opposing counsel as you are to your children or parents.  As such, it will take a lot of good interactions to offset one bad interaction.

The Moral: Do Unto Others Better Than You would Do to Yourself in Negotiations or Pay the Price.