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by Phyllis Pollack
September 2010

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

I read an article in the New York Times (August 24, 2010) about how important it is for our brain to have downtime so that it can process and absorb all of the stuff that we throw at it. Entitled “Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime”, the author Matt Richtel notes that with the advent of iPods, iPhones, blackberries, mobile phones, television, et cetera, it is now possible to be continuously occupied:

“Cell phones, which in the last few years have become full-fledged computers with high-speed Internet connections, let people relieve the tedium of exercising, the grocery store line, stoplights or lulls in the dinner conversation.”

“The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.” (Id.).

The author cites several different studies that indicate that when a person has an opportunity to process the information – such as going for a walk or a run with no distractions except what nature provides – she learns significantly better. By contrast, when she is constantly barraged with information, she will suffer from fatigue also known as information overload. (Id.)

This theme resonates with me because it is critical to resolving disputes. Disputes usually develop due to miscommunication or lack of communication. They usually settle only after parties have exchanged information allowing the miscommunication, misunderstanding or lack of communication to be rectified. That information has to be processed by our brain; but, this and other studies I have blogged about (“Let Me “Sleep On It””( November 20, 2009) ) indicate that we need “quiet” time to do this; continuously multitasking will not allow it to happen.

Unfortunately, I have conducted many a mediation in which I have walked into a separate session only to find the attorney and/or party multitasking, e.g. using the laptop and the mobile phone at the same time. When I walk in, they naturally cease what they are doing to talk with me. But, I often wonder, how much of what I am saying, are they really absorbing? Can their brain really process all I am saying plus their telephone conversations plus the information from their laptops more or less in rapid succession? This article and other studies I have read, indicate, no.

May I make a bold suggestion?: when attending a mediation or negotiation – tune everything else out; turn off the laptop, the mobile phone and blackberry. Focus totally on the negotiation at hand and allow yourself to be totally absorbed in the moment. And, if need be. . . walk outside for a few moments so that you can absorb and process the new information that you have just been given and to clear your head.

While our technology has made great improvements in our lives, unfortunately, the hard wiring in our brains has not kept pace: its processers are and always will be much slower than the latest Intel® chip processor.

. . .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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