Have Faith in Another’s Honesty!

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. 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

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… MORE >

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