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By Steven G. MehtaSteve Mehta

In mediations, clients are faced with important decisions throughout the day  — what move to make, what response to have, and what to have as the bottom line?  Many times, you will see a person who can normally make good decisions but is paralyzed in the mediation.  Why?  Well recent research demonstrates what we may have already believed: that cognitive stress can substantially affect a logical approach to decision making.

Psychologists Jane Raymond and Jennifer L. O’Brien of Bangor University in the United Kingdom wanted to investigate how cognitive stress affects rational decision making. Their findings were reported in the current issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.  The study reveals that distractions and other stressors significantly impact decision making. When volunteers were not distracted or under stress, they tended to excel at making decisions that had been highly predictive of either winning or losing outcomes. However, when they were distracted, they were not as effective in making appropriate decisions.

authors note that when we are stressed and need to make a decision, we are “more likely to bear in mind things that have been rewarding and to overlook information predicting negative outcomes.” In other words, these findings indicate that irrational biases, which favor previous rewards, may guide our behavior during times of stress.

The implication is that in mediation people might revert to decision making that they previously found to be effective rather than based upon fact or information.  Further as noted above the decision is biased towards favorable outcomes.  As such, it is important to make sure that the decision you are helping the party make be considered as positive as possible in order to factor in the bias of decision making when under stress.

Adapted from materials provided by Association for Psychological Science.

Association for Psychological Science (2009, September 16). Under Pressure: The Impact Of Stress On Decision Making.



The recent hostage crisis for Captain Richard Phillips simply shows the importance of negotiations in every aspect of life.  As you may recall, Captain Richard Phillips committed an act of utter bravery when he negotiated with the Somali pirates to release his crew.  He negotiated his life for theirs.  Thankfully, Captain Phillips was eventually able to escape successfully with the assistance of the Navy SEALS.  But Captain Phillips’ story as well as the attempts to negotiate his release clearly reveal that everybody needs to develop skills to properly negotiate.  We can actually take skills that are normally taught only to hostage negotiators and apply those skills to every day situations. 


Hostage negotiators often follow simple rules of engagement in any hostage situation. 

1.                  Establish Open Lines of Communication

Hostage negotiators understand that the first step in resolving a conflict is to open lines of communication.  This is done so that the parties can have a means of identifying needs, demands, and ways in which to resolve the crisis.  The same principle applies in negotiation.  It is important to establish rapport early in the relationship.  By establishing rapport, you can start to develop trust in the process, and in you. 

2.                  Identify the leaders

Before the real demands can be known, the hostage teams must know who to negotiate with.  Similarly, before any meaningful negotiations can take place, it is important to find out who the persons are with authority. 

      3.  Restore Calmness to the situation

Hostage negotiators recognize that while a perpetrator’s emotions run high, they will likely remain irrational in their decision making.  As such, they immediately try to restore calmness to the situation.   This principle is equally true in negotiations or mediation. When a person is emotional about an issue he or she will not be able to make proper demands, make real needs known, or perhaps not know the bottom line. A sophisticated negotiator must recognize that addressing emotions in the negotiation process is often the most important step to resolution.  By using active listening skills such as asking open ended questions, and letting the other person speak without interruption, you allow the party to vent emotions and to calm down. 

4.                  Gather Information about the Dispute

Once the heightened state of emotionality has been minimized, hostage teams attempt to identify the specific needs of the parties involved.  This process is also applicable in mediation.  Unlike in the prior stage, during this process, specific targeted questions can be asked of the parties as to their needs, and what would help to eliminate the problem.  By identifying a person’s needs and problems, the astute negotiator will now be given the opportunity to find potential solutions and what things are simply not negotiable.

To get all 7 hostage negotiation secrets that can be used in any negotiation, contact Steve Mehta and ask for him to email you his article Hostage Negotiation Secrets In Your Everyday Life.   

Fear of the unknown

Fear of the unknown

Fear or No Fear affects Deal or No Deal



 Often, fear can be a significant motivating factor in negotiations.  People fear the unknown; they fear losing; they fear having a large verdict.  All of these fears can help the parties to have realistic expectations of the negotiation.  Indeed, often when a party does not fear the future result, such lack of fear can be a recipe for a failed negotiation.    

Recently, however, researchers have discovered that there are other things that people fear that is beyond what is normally expected.    Researchers have discovered that people are often motivated by fear of regret.  The concept is often called “anticipatory regret.” In four separate studies researchers tested whether and how anticipatory regret affected things like escalating a position or commitment to a position.  The researchers found that people desire to minimize future regret and that such a desire significantly motivated the decisions they made in escalating situations. 

Other researchers have found that past regret over a decision will also affect the decision in the future and the commitment to such a choice.  This research demonstrates that when people persist in a failing course of action, their decisions are formed by what considering what happened in the past and what they fear could happen in the future.   One of those future fears is the fear of future emotional pain. 

There are several ways this “anticipatory regret” research can be applied in negotiations.  First, when preparing for mediation, you should try to consider what a person may regret in the future and what value that might have on someone.  The more value that a choice may have, the more that a person may regret it, and conversely, the less the value of the choice, the less they would regret it.  

Second, think about how you can best use anticipatory regret to your advantage.  NBC game show Deal or No Deal plays on the issue of anticipatory regret.  It shows the participants what they could get.  By knowing whether the participants have a possible $1,000,000 case or a $1 case substantially affects their decision.  They are, in part, motivated by future regret:  Regret, that they might end up with the case that is $1, regret that they didn’t strive to get the million, and then regret that they may go home with no “real money” in pocket.  It is no coincidence that for several years that the game show has been in existence, no one has won the million dollars until recently.  

Lawsuits are similar to the game show.  The parties can be faced with anticipatory regret on many levels.  Will they do better at trial?  Will they be exposed to any risk by going to trial?  Will they have given up their one chance to be heard?  By thinking about these options further before negotiating, you can be better prepared to respond to issues of anticipatory regret and to persuade the other side to pay more attention to your position by using the concept of anticipatory regret. 

Further, you can then prepare your offers to best take advantage of the other person’s anticipatory regret. 

Research Source: 


Wong, K.F.E & Kwong, J.Y.Y, The Role of anticipated regret in escalation commitment, Journal of applied Pyschology 92(2) 545-554

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