01 May Say Cheese! The Power Of A Smile
From beginning to end, taking part in a civil lawsuit can be similar to competing in a grueling marathon. Prior to attending mediation, the parties have likely spent several years in litigation. Throughout this period, they have spent money and expended energy to strengthen their positions. By the time the parties actually get to mediation, they arrive with their guard up and their game face well and truly on.
Like all mediators, I have a variety of tools in my toolbox to help the parties resolve some or all of their disputes. I don’t get to pull out all the tools from my toolbox at every mediation I conduct, but there is one trusty tool I reach for each and every time…the smile. It’s been famously said that peace begins with a smile, and I couldn’t agree more.
In this blog post, I explain the science behind the power of the smile, and how and why it is the Phillips head screwdriver of mediation tools for all parties involved.
Unlike a trial, which is more adversarial in nature, the goal of mediation is to lay down arms, find commonalities, and work towards settlement. As a mediator, my job is to attempt to bring people together towards a zone of possible agreement (or ZOPA).
So…how and why should you harness and utilize the immense power of a smile?
Scientific research has determined that human beings are hardwired to mimic each other – for better or for worse. Whether it’s observing someone whose energy seems to be positively infectious or feeling that another person is “sucking the life out of the room,” the people around us can have an enormous impact on our own state of being.
Simply put, an action like smiling is contagious. When we smile, people are naturally inclined to smile in return. When a person expresses the physical properties of a smile, it affects how they feel internally. Smiling activates neural messaging in your brain and can even improve your health because it helps the immune system to function more effectively. When someone has positive feelings internally, they are more likely to exemplify positivity towards others and towards the task at hand.
Paraphrasing what another person has just said is a tool some people use to demonstrate active listening. But what about physical paraphrasing?
When I see someone explain something to me using their hands, body language or facial expression, I will often demonstrate that I understand what they are communicating through the use of mirroring.
I also use our natural tendency to mirror each other to subtly change the course of a conversation towards a more positive direction. By projecting a smiling face, I hope others at the mediation will mirror my demeanor. As I mentioned above, simply smiling can change the way a person feels and eventually the way they act. The shift to a smile is powerful and effective. While a smile won’t make up the monetary differences between bargaining positions, it can help narrow the gap between the parties’ positions leading to the possibility of successful settlement talks.
Give A Smile A Try
Can something as deceptively simple as a smile really be a game changer at a mediation? A smile, in itself, won’t bridge a yawning gap in the zone of potential agreement or convince a party to settle if they don’t believe it’s in their best interest. When an agreement is possible-but-not-yet-probable, a smile can begin to melt an icy disposition and a hardened position. In my six years as a mediator, I have noticed that if I can get people to smile, it can create positive momentum and a snowball effect that makes the chances of reaching a resolution much greater.
Painting on a smile when facing a person or people you’ve come to view as your opponent may not be easy or feel natural. If you can “fake it til you make it,” you might find your outside action soon matches your internal feeling. If you are able to reach a mutually agreeable settlement or otherwise emerge from the mediation in a better position than when you entered, you could find that you actually have a lot to smile about.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan Cooper joined the Cooper Mediation team in November 2017 and devotes 100% of her professional time to mediating at roster-rates. She has mediated over 150 cases in the areas of personal injury, property damage, long-term disability and other insurance-related disputes. She has handled global mediations, cases with multiple parties, self-represented litigants and cases with complicated technical and interpersonal challenges.
Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (416) 726-1344.
To schedule a mediation with Logan, visit: https://coopermediation.ca/logan-cooper-online-calendar/.