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Let Me “Sleep On It”

by Phyllis Pollack
November 2009

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

      Recently, published an article entitled “Why ‘Sleeping On It’ Helps” by John M. Grohol, PSYD. The thesis of the article is that “the brain makes good unconscious decisions when we let it” (p. 2).

      According to Dr. Grohol:

      “Previous research suggests that sometimes the more consciously we think about a decision, the worse the decision made. Sometimes what’s needed is a period of unconscious thought – equivalent to “sleeping on it” . . . in order to make better decisions” (p. 1).

        To study this phenomenon, researchers conducted experiments. The results led them to believe that unconscious thought is actually an “active, goal-directed thought process.” But unlike conscious thought, the usual biases are absent, so that we weigh the different components more equally; our preconceptions are not considered by our unconscious. That is, “unconscious thinkers seem to be better at using appropriate information to arrive at” (p.2) their decision:

      “The researcher hypothesize that conscious thought can lead to poor weighting in decision-making - the more you think about something, the more your biases interfere with good decision-making” (p. 2).

       A moment’s reflection will reveal how this relates to mediation. “Sleeping on it” is actually counter-intuitive to the mediation process. Typically, the parties attend mediation with the goal of settling or resolving the dispute at the mediation so that the final part of the session is spent drafting and signing the settlement agreement.

      Many parties and mediators are uncomfortable with the prospect of a party walking out of a mediation and taking the final offer home “to sleep on it”. They fear that if a party walks out of a mediation to “mull” it over, the matter will not settle.

      This research though  indicates that “sleeping on it” is not such a bad idea: to the contrary, it may be rather productive. A person’s unconscious is the better decision maker and thus a person will make a good decision, unconsciously. That decision most likely will be one that is much more rational,  much less biased and  much less dependent on preconceived notions than one made consciously at a mediation.

      So, counter-intuitively, perhaps it is not a bad thing to let someone walk out of a mediation with an offer in hand “to sleep on it”. Chances are, the matter will settle once the unconscious decision-maker takes over!

      . . .Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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