Most of us need to finish what we start. Unless we’re a chronic procrastinator, completing a task gives us a sense of accomplishment and makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us feel ready to face a new challenge. Some tasks can be very complex, time consuming and frustrating, like being involved in a legal action. Reaching a settlement, either through negotiation or mediation, can bring closure to the parties and let them get on with the rest of their lives.
We don’t like things that are left hanging
This need to get things done appears to be hard wired into our brains, according to an article in Psychology Today. In 1927 a Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik, conducted a study where subjects were asked to complete a set of tasks. During some of these tasks, subjects were interrupted before they finished. When later asked about these tasks, subjects recalled the tasks during which they were interrupted much better than the tasks they finished.
We don’t like ambiguity, our brains want complete endings to things. When we can’t complete a task, our brain gets stuck on it. It may pop up intrusive thoughts as a reminder to our cognitive system that something needs to be completed. Our brain reminds us of what we could have or should have done.
Finish What You Start
This Zeigarnik Effect could also explain why we regret things we didn’t do more than we regret things we did do. It could explain why,
- When we grieve, we think more about what we didn’t say to or do with the deceased more than we focusing on what we did experience with them.
- Why cliffhangers on TV series compel us to continue watching. We really need the story to be completed.
- We buy lottery tickets, knowing we have practically no chance of winning, because we want to avoid the regret of knowing that when those numbers are picked, we might have won if we only bought that ticket.
Litigants need closure, but often litigation won’t give it to them
When parties are involved in a lawsuit, they want closure in a case. Mediation and negotiation are great tools to reach closure. Litigation can be lousy if a person wants closure, because if it does happen, it’s after much time, energy and expense. Even if there is a verdict by a judge or jury, it may just be the end of one chapter and the start of another, the appeals process.
When people make decisions they are more committed to it, get greater satisfaction from that decision and are much more likely to buy into the decision and sell it later. Successful mediation and negotiation create closure for the parties because they address the source of the conflict. Closure in these circumstances is not something imposed upon you by another, but created by you. You control that closure and gives your brain something else to focus on.