At the Works-in-Progress conference this past week at Arizona State University (great job Art!), I had the pleasure of hearing from Professor Scott Hughes on his latest work on mirror neurons. I have blogged about mirror neurons before and the impact on people. It explains things from why Harley rides are pleasurable to why Starbucks runs smoothly.
Scott took the next step regarding dispute resolution and discussed how the latest findings in neurobiology can help mediators be more effective. If the goal of the mediator is to build the relationship and trust with the parties, then, Scott argues, mirroring the physical movements and the emotions of the parties can help do this. As many of us noted, we already “know” this when we teach mediator skills. We talk about “modeling” the behavior of the parties and watching body language.
Marty Latz raised a good question asking whether knowing about mirror neurons and its impact would allow the more manipulative among us to take advantage of others. I had two thoughts about this. First, my guess is that, like flattery, even if we know mirroring someone can be manipulative, it will still work. And, second, good salespeople and other professional negotiators probably know this already intuitively. This is just the science explaining why what we already do is effective.
For lawyers, this research could also be useful in working with clients and realizing that mirroring their behavior in interviews and counseling will help improve the relationship between them and their clients.