Amy Cuddy's TED Talk presentation on nonverbal communication has a great deal to offer.  For those of us studying or practicing in the Dispute Resolution space, Cuddy provides a good overview of the meaning of certain facial expressions. She also points out that some emotions that are identified from expressions are more powerful than others. For example, contempt is an emotion that is difficult for one to change and therefore is a potent variable in predicting divorce. She also presents findings that individuals who purposely take on facial expressions with the intent to improve their position are more likely to prevail than if they did not. And then, taking her research one more step, Cuddy shares her breakthrough finding that as one continues to imitate their desired trait one may eventually incorporate that trait into ones pathology.  With this transformation, an individual may achieve success.

As extraordinary as Cuddy’s research is in many fields of study, it immediately shifted my focus to a new question:  How does one decide what they want to become?  In her presentation, Cuddy shares examples where subjects took on traits that others perceive as powerful.  Eventually, these subjects were able to reach their goals because they “faked it” until they “became it”.  As unique as this approach may be, I struggle with the premise.  Is being perceived as powerful what we are all about?  Is having power always useful in negotiations or conflict?  Recognizing that the most sustainable agreements are those cultivated by the parties, would not an accomplished mediator try to suppress power?

Last year, I was a party to a dispute that culminated in mediation.  The mediator staked out his territory in his welcoming remarks to me and the other party.  It was clear that he was going to control the conversation.  I was not able to ask a key question of the other party and, despite the obvious need to elicit the answer I needed from the other party, the mediator failed to ask it.  Ultimately, a settlement was reached.  At the end of the mediation, I asked the other party my question.  His answer made a material difference and although I was not obliged to change the settlement, I did so, unilaterally.

I submit this example to make 2 points, one in the form of a question: 

1)       How did the parties in the above example use power and what were the results?

2)      If you seek to fake something until you become it, choose wisely. 

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