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Surprises Make People Happier

From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.

I’m currently now on vacation. However, what I thought I might do for my blogs during my vacation is to provide posts that are relevant to the experiences I have during vacation and that are also relevant to mediation.

While I was flying on Virgin America, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they provided Internet for free while on the plane. This was intriguing to me because I never use the Internet on the plane and was able to text message, update Facebook, and provide e-mails while 30,000 feet above the ground. What was fascinating to me was that I was in such a good mood by getting something small like Internet service for free.

Such a gift made me think of the benefits of giving away small items for free. I recently also discovered some research from 1987 that reflected the benefits of providing something for free.

According to the website, A classic study by psychologist Norbert Schwarz found that being given a small pleasant surprise such as ten cents would make a person happier. Schwarz repeatedly placed a dime near a copy machine where they knew it would be found. When the subjects who found the dime were surveyed shortly after their discovery, their overall satisfaction with life was substantially higher than other subjects who did not find a coin.

While the original study was conducted back in 1987 when a dime bought more than it does today, the basic idea remains the same: even a tiny positive surprise can improve one’s outlook, albeit temporarily. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Schwarz noted, “It’s not the value of what you find. It’s that something positive happened to you.”

The same article in the Baltimore Sun described a similar effect using a food sample: “Another study asked people leaving a grocery store to evaluate only their satisfaction with their TVs back home… Those who minutes earlier got a free sample of food from the store liked their TVs better than those who missed the sample.”

One of the most significant implications of this research for negotiations and mediation is the idea that some small surprise might make a party happier with the outcome at the end of mediation. In other words, if there’s a way that you can get some small bonus or small reward at the end of the mediation to a party, that might help them increase their satisfaction with the mediated results or negotiated results substantially.

This principle is also consistent with the concept of face saving. Many times, you can end up getting a deal and allow a party with the opposing side to save face with regards to a resolution. For example, in a recent mediation the parties indicated that the firm offer was $60,000. The defendant said that they would never pay $60,000. At the end of the day the case settled for $57,500. This small concession allowed the other side to save face, the plaintiff was able to end up with the deal even that was only a small concession.

Another way parties can give a small concession is agreeing to pay mediation fees at the end of the mediation. This can be a pleasant surprise when both sides expected to pay mediation fees.

By the way, this entire post was dictated on my iPad.


Steve Mehta

Steven G. Mehta is an attorney and mediator providing unique mediation services in a variety of types of civil litigation. His ability to understand the human process and complex emotional issues involved in legal negotiations enables him to effectively assist the parties in obtaining the best possible results during mediation.… MORE >

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