The Human Dimension in Mediation/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

Posted on June 22, 2014


An attorney/mediator by the name of Jan Frankel Schau has written a few blog posts that deal with the value of small gestures in moving a mediation to a successful conclusion. The posts are found at In one post entitled “The Hearty Handshake and Other Lessons From My Father, Attorney Schau discusses the value of a simple handshake before negotiations begin. In a Harvard Business School study, a control group preceded their negotiation with a handshake while the other group simply began its negotiation with no such contact. The agreement reached by the handshaking group was found to be fairer than the one reached by the other group.

In a post entitled “The Value of a Gesture of Good Faith”, Attorney Schau found a movement towards settlement that began once lunch had been ordered for the parties. This finding is similar to one I had heard described years ago by a clinical psychologist. The study took place during a time where pay phones were still common. New York pedestrians used a phone boot. In the control group, the money from the call, was returned when the phone was hung up. Not so in the other group. Each individual was asked for directions after they left the phone booth. The parties who had received their money in return after their call were more likely to assist in directions than was the other group.

The lesson to be learned is that small acts of kindness or goodness can make a difference in relationships and in negotiations. The converse is clear as well. Civility is always a good choice in the dynamic of daily living.  A lesson worth remembering.