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By Steven G. Mehta

Most mediators I know prefer when the parties attend the mediation in person.  In fact, I even write that attendance by phone is a poor substitute and should not be recommended. The reason, I believe and know, is that there is substantial power to having someone attend in person.  There is a greater connectivety, greater ease of communication, and greater ability to develop rapport.  Recently, I found some research that shed light on the power of facetime.

Researchers used the standard ultimatum game to test the theory that face to face connections would increase cooperation and dealmaking.  In the ultimatum game, one participant decides how to share a sum of money  with another subject. The second subject can accept or reject the allocation. In the event the split is rejected, nobody receives any money. If the split is accepted, the second participant will receive the amount offered.  Although one would think that any offer is better than zero, the reality is that for the most part people tend to reject “unfair” offers that are too skewed toward the first person.  Most of the allocations are within 10% of a 50-50 split.  Usually a third of the offers are rejected as being unfair.

Researcher Al Roth added to the Ultimatum game.  He required the subjects to speak face-to-face before playing the game.  The interesting discovery was that  regardless of the conversation topics, the people that spoke before were far more likely to successfuly split the money. With the conversation, the percent of “fair” offers rose to 83%, and a mere 5% of the games resulted in failure.  There was an over 30% increase in the amount of deals struck when face to face conversations took place and the amount of failed deals dropped by about 80%!

As I have indicated in my book 112 ways to Succeed in Any Negotiation or Mediation, schmoozing serves many purposes and helps to develop trust and rapport that can be utilized later in the negotiation process. As far as I know, there are no studies investigating the effect of video conferencing tools such as Apple’s Facetime, Skype, or other Video conferencing tools on the ultimatum game or dealmaking.  However, I suspect that such tools would have a similar effect on the negotiated outcome.  In every meeting or mediation in which I have participated in some form of videoconferencing, the parties seemed to be happier with the interactions than when they simply had a telephone conference.   The reality is that although Schmoozing is as old as civilization, the new technologies can help to incorporate the concept of schmoozing over long distances.

Research Source:

Steve’s Book

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