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Returning the favor: why reciprocation bias is making your divorce harder than it needs to be.


Think about a time when a friend invited you to dinner or offered you a ride you felt an intense desire to cook for them next time, or to return the favor in some way, didn't you?

And sure, you assumed that was simply because you've been brought up that way, or because you think it's nice to be nice, but actually there's a really powerful psychological principle at play here: reciprocation bias.

Reciprocation bias is yet another one of those tricks our brains play on us and understanding it is vital if you want to achieve a more amicable divorce.

Why is reciprocation bias so powerful?

Okay, so your upbringing probably does have a great deal to do with why you try to always return a favor — it's a tendency that's as old as we are and it's firmly baked into our evolution. Our ancestors likely relied on that in-built feeling of obligation we experience when someone helps us in any way. It's what led them to share food and resources and ensured our survival as a species.

But it has a dark side too.

How many conflicts, from the "he hit me first" battle in the school yard to all-out war between nations can be traced back to the principle of reciprocation bias? Certainly a good chunk of them.

It's what causes folks to forget the second clause of "an eye for an eye"; it's why we accept the logic that drives the plot of every revenge movie ever, or find ourselves justifying some truly gruesome acts that were carried out on people who "had it coming".

And unsurprisingly, divorce proceedings are fertile ground for reciprocation bias to take on a life of its own.

Whether it's the mud-slinging that happens in response to some harsh words or the refusal of either party to back down from their original position, reciprocation bias can be to blame, and if it goes unchecked it can make the whole process much harder for everyone involved.

Luckily, dealing with these pesky psychological principles is part and parcel of a mediator's training and we have a whole host of strategies that can help you and your partner overcome them and find the peaceful settlement you're looking for.

The power of patience.

Encouraging patience is just one of the ways a mediator can prevent reciprocation bias from escalating tensions. For example, as soon as either party starts throwing around inflammatory language, the mediator can call a halt to proceedings — a brief recess is often long enough to discourage the other party from "returning the favor".

Harnessing the positive power of reciprocation bias.

While there's no denying the negative effects of reciprocation bias, an effective mediator knows that harnessing the positive power of this piece of brain trickery can be the key to reaching a mutually beneficial agreement.

The bracketing technique, which relies on both parties making small reciprocal concessions, is just one of the ways that a mediator can set this in motion. When one party can be persuaded to step back — even just a little — from their original position, the other party can't help but feel obligated to return the favor. This second concession leads to a third; negotiations start to snowball and the stressful stalemate is broken.

Our brains are scarily powerful; left to their own devices they'd have us all acting like kids in a school yard yelling that "the other boy started it". But, with a little bit of knowledge and some outside help from a trained mediator it's entirely possible for you to use these psychological principles to your advantage. You can harness their power for good, helping you get the fair, amicable, and peaceful divorce you deserve.

If you'd like more information about how the mediation process can help you find a peaceful path to divorce, get in touch to arrange a chat.

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Tuesday, 20 April 2021

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