Deciding whether or not to settle a lawsuit can be a big decision. For clients who are inexperienced with the legal system, litigation can be especially stressful. Add up the two and what have you got? A recipe for looking on the bright side of things, according to research discussed in Science Daily.

The article discusses a review published in the Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. It looks at how, while under stress, people pay more attention to the upside of a possible outcome.

Stress can be bad, but it can make us focus on the good

Mara Mather of the University of Southern California, who co-wrote the review paper, says she was surprised at the findings. “This is sort of not what people would think right off the bat,” Mather is quoted as saying. “Stress is usually associated with negative experiences, so you’d think, maybe I’m going to be more focused on the negative outcomes.” To the contrary,

  • While under stress people pay more attention to positive information and discount negative information.
  • Stress seems to improve learning from positive feedback while degrading learning from negative feedback.
  • Those who are stressed and making an important decision may pay more attention to the upsides of the alternatives under consideration and less to the potential harm.

Stress In Mediation

If you’re in a negotiation or mediation session and are able to talk with the opposing party, it’s only natural to emphasize the upside of your client’s proposal. You’re selling that idea and want a settlement favorable for your client, but according to this research there’s now another reason to sell the idea of looking on the bright side of life.

If the other party is stressed by the situation, he or she may be especially receptive to hearing about the benefits of your client’s proposal. If stressed enough, that party may also be willing to resolve the situation early in the process just to get it over with and get back to his or her normal, much less stressful, non-litigious life.

If you’re the attorney representing the stressed party on the receiving end of this offer, the client may benefit from taking a time out.  It may be a good idea to take a walk around the office building to work off some stress while you try to make the client fully aware of the downsides of the offer. Though it’s ultimately up to the client whether to settle or not, your client needs to be fully informed of the total picture before he or she can make an informed decision.

When it’s your turn to make a counter offer, it’s your chance to paint the rosy picture for the other party and hope for the best.