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Cell phones have revolutionized the way that we communicate.  Many people attorneys believe that having a cell phone has made them more efficient and productive.  But is there a cost?  Can cell phones actually hinder communication.  My answer is yes.

According to new research from Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein, cell phones can actually harm the interactivity of in person communications when the cell phone is visible.  The researchers asked participants to spend 10 minutes chatting to each other about “an interesting event that occurred to you over the past month”. The participants sat in a private booth so that there were no distractions.  For half of them, close by but out of their direct line of view, a mobile phone was placed on a table-top. For the other pairs, there was a note-book in place of the phone.

The participants who had chatted with a phone nearby, as opposed to a notebook, were less likely to become friends with the other person even if they interacted a lot.  They also reported feeling less closely connected to their conversational partner.  In a second study participants were divided into four groups involving mundane topics, meaningful topics and phone or notebook.  Understandably the participants talking about meaningful topics felt closer or more intimately connected to their conversational partner.  However, this extra level of intimacy was missing for the participants for whom a mobile phone was visible.  The participants often didn’t even know that the cell phone was present suggesting that the effect was on a non-conscious level.

This research is part of the broader concept of non-conscious priming; where an object can sub-consciously affect a person’s behavior.  In addition, on an observational level, the phone implies that the person is not interested in the conversation; that they would rather be discussing something else with another person.  It can also suggest that the person in the in person conversation is not important.

This research also remains consistent with the fundamental views regarding listening.  As part of the wide literature, including my own book, it is important to actively listen to another person by removing distractions.  Listening is a sign of respect and eliminating obstacles to a clear interaction is a further sign that the person in the room is important.

The implications for mediation are very clear.  Remove obstructions, distractions, and articles that may interfere or detract from the interaction.  In addition, perhaps you might consider making the obvious gesture of letting the other person know that you are shutting off the phone putting it away.

If you don’t believe that cell phones are disruptive and potentially offensive to the person in the room, watch the next video.

Listening actively is a critical means of helping to resolve a dispute.  Don’t let the phone call or text take away from that.

Source: Andrew K. Przybylski, and Netta Weinstein (2012). Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships DOI: 10.1177/0265407512453827

By Steven G. Mehta


Story telling is a fundamental part of human interaction.  From early on, humans communicated through stories.  They taught lessons through stories, and they experienced life through stories.  Take a look at all religious books — The Bible, the Bhagvad Gita, etc — and they are all stories with a purpose.

Behavioral psychologist Susan M. Weinschenk Ph.D. notes: Research shows that stories create images in the mind that may also trigger mirror neurons. Use stories if you want to get people to take an action.

Stories can also help forge connections and allow people to understand abstract concepts through the medium of the story.  The story of the tortoise and hare teach the abstract principle that a person doesn’t have to be the quickest of the mark to succeed, but that patience and perseverance can succeed over instant speed.  It also teaches that one person’s skill in the sprint may be his disadvantage in the marathon.

In mediation, stories too have their place.  Stories can help to demonstrate a problem that a party is having without having to tell them about the specific problem.  Some concerns with stories, however, are that they go to long or that they are not relevant.  Many people complain that the stories of some mediators are old war stories, or worse, conversations about the mediator’s children or personal life.

It is important for anybody trying to tell a story in mediation that it have immediate relevance to the subject.  At the end of the story, there must be an aha moment.  The person hearing must think to themselves — I want to be like the person in the story or I don’t want to have that experience in my life.

Second, the story must be short.  According to the website the Copyblogger, if you are lucky you have a minute and a half to get your story across.  According to a study done by the internet video service provider wistia, a video that is under 30 seconds is viewed fully through by 85% of the viewers who watch the video, whereas a video in excess of 2 minutes is only watched half way.  Wistia suggests that you should have your main content within 20 seconds.  (article by Amit Agarwal).  This research confirms that you message and story must be short. In today’s time challenged world, if you don’t get to the point quickly, you are wasting time and worse not communicating effectively.

Finally, your story has to be compelling.  It has to peek the interest of the audience.

Too many people make those three mistakes:  Irrelevant, long and boring story.

By Steven G. Mehta

Most people in mediation don’t fully realize that many — if not all– of the issues that are in question — liability, damages, cause, effect, consequences, good faith, ability to perform, etc..are affected by the perception that is created throughout the litigation and mediation.  The reality is that perception is reality, not the other way round.  People believe things because they percieve it to be that way.  For example, a party may have done absolutely nothing wrong, but the perception from third parties is that they did something wrong because of their actions.  Most people in mediation don’t fully comprehend this concept.  Many clients say “I didn’t do anything wrong.”  However, the reality is that it may not matter that they “in fact” did nothing wrong, but instead whether they were perceived as doing something wrong.

One study demonstrated the very real differences that perception can create.  In that study, people were shown pictures of others and the only difference was whether that person in the picture was holding a glass of alcohol (wine, etc.).  The study found that “in the absence of any evidence of reduced cognitive performance, people who hold an alcoholic beverage are perceived to be less intelligent than those who do not, a mistake we term the imbibing idiot bias. In fact, merely priming observers with alcohol cues causes them to judge targets who hold no beverage at all as less intelligent. The bias is not driven by a belief that less intelligent people are more likely to consume alcohol. We find that the bias may be costly in professional settings. Job candidates who ordered wine during an interview held over dinner were viewed as less intelligent and less hireable than candidates who ordered soda. However, prospective candidates believe that ordering wine rather than soda will help them appear more intelligent.”

The fact is that perception is power.  If you can control the perceptions that others have of you, you will be able to go a long way towards convincing them of the merits of your position.  The implications of a study such can range far and wide into what pictures a party might try to use to portray a particular person, mentioning an alcohol problem at court, or simply in interviewing for jobs.

By Steven G. Mehta

Research source: Rick, Scott and Schweitzer, Maurice E., The Imbibing Idiot Bias: Consuming Alcohol Can Be Hazardous to Your (Perceived) Intelligence (June 12, 2012). Forthcoming, Journal of Consumer Psychology. Available at SSRN: or


Want to become smarter, even if only for a little bit.  Well, I have the answer for you.  Chew some gum.

Recently a study found that people who chew gum before testing on a subject increased their cognitive function.  The study showed that the increase in brain power, however, lasted only for 15 minutes.

Interestingly, the study also found that the boost in brain power didn’t come from the sugar.  People with sugar free gum had the same increase.

One of the reasons that this is interesting for mediation is that many times, little things in mediation can result in big changes.  Second, this study demonstrates that by changing the conditions even a little, there is a change in the way people think.

Other ways that you might change the thinking patterns in mediation are:

  • Get Up and Move
  • Go Outside
  • Eat a Snack
  • Change Seats
  • Walk Around
  • Take a walk with Mediator while discussing case
  • Drink some coffee

I have, at some point in time, tried all of these things, and you would be surprised that these little changes can sometimes create a large breakthrough in the mediation.


By Steven G. Mehta

Steve’s Book

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