Stay up to date on everything mediation!

Subscribe to our free newsletter,
"This Week in Mediation"

Sign Up Now

Already subscribed No subscription today
<xTITLE>Have Faith in Another’s Honesty!</xTITLE>

Have Faith in Another’s Honesty!

by Phyllis Pollack
November 2019

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack

In any given mediation, I am often asked whether I think the other party is telling the “truth”, can she be  “trusted” ? et cetera. It is a hard question to answer, and I prefer to be positive and optimistic in my response by stating that I have no reason to think ill of the other party. That, deep down, everyone is “honest.”

A recent article in The Economist supports my view that deep down, everyone is honest. Entitled, “People are more honest than they think they are.” (June 22, 2019), the author recounts a study that supports the notion that “Honesty makes the world go round.” (Id.) Alain Cohn of the University of Michigan and his colleagues conducted an experiment in 40 countries involving 355 cities and more than 17, 000 people.

In each city, they went into a public building such as a bank, museum or police station and handed in a dummy wallet to an employee in the reception area stating they just found it in the street. They exited quickly before any questions could be asked. Each wallet contained three identical business cards with an e mail address and a fictitious native person’s name, a shopping list in the local language and a key. Some of the wallets also contained $13.45 in local currency while others contained no cash.

The researchers  found:

In 38 of the 40 countries, the wallets with money in them were returned more often than those without (51% of the time, compared with 40% for the cashless). While rates of honesty varied greatly between different places (Scandinavia most honest, Asia and Africa least), the difference within individual countries between the two return rates was quite stable around that figure of 11 percentage points. In addition, wallets containing a larger sum of money ($94.15) were even more likely (by about another ten percentage points) to be returned than those with less, although the “big money” experiment was done in only three countries. (Id.)

In sum, “with greater temptation, then comes greater honesty….” (Id.). But, not surprisingly and like many parties in my mediations, the researchers found that when they asked a sample of 299 American volunteers what they expected the result of this experiment to be, many predicted less honesty. They opined that the more money that was in the wallet, the less chance that it would be returned. (Id.). Dr. Cohn even asked this same question of 279 of his colleagues and got only marginally better results. (Id.)

So, I guess my belief that deep down, most people are honest is supported by the evidence; most people want to “do the right thing” and feel good when they do so. However, like some of the researcher’s colleagues, many of the parties in my mediations are still non-believers. Perhaps I should show them this article to  convince them otherwise.

…. 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.

Email Author
Author Website

Additional articles by Phyllis Pollack