Decision Fatigue

Dear Mediator Mike:  I know you mediate with Judicate West, and they provide copious amounts of food throughout the day, including a healthy lunch.  Why is this?  Is it simply marketing, or are you trying to make your clients fat?

— Not Complaining In Los Angeles —

Dear Not:  Excellent observation.  And while I can’t tell you the genesis of the Judicate West food policy, I can tell you that it is likely leading to better, more thoughtful, and more creative settlements.  Really, there is now, thankfully, scientific proof that Judicate West’s M&Ms cache…and lunch…leads to better settlements.

I know this is a very exciting scientific discovery – right up there with the revelation that red wine and dark chocolate are good for you.  I love this Science thing.  And now?  Yes, it’s true, Science has spoken and has confirmed that M&M’s make you a better negotiator.  I’ll write it again in case you missed it:  M&M’s make you a better negotiator!

According to the attached fascinating article on Decision Fatigue, which I highly recommend to all of you negotiators, people actually get tired when forced to make too many decisions — and the fatigue manifests itself in a loss of willpower or self-control.

Think of registering for gifts for your wedding.  What kind of china pattern, stemware, thread count on your sheets, color of your towels, pots and pans, utensils, coffee maker, shoot me now please!!! By the end of the day, WHO GIVES A SH** IF THE DISH TOWELS HAVE DUCKS ON THEM, JUST GET ME A BEER!

According to the article, the decline in will power — and the ability to make good decisions — is borne out through both behavioral experiments and neuroscience.  As we make more decisions, and suffer decision fatigue, we tend to make decisions that offer a quick payoff — instant gratification — as opposed to ones that provide for a better long-term gain; whereas when we are fresh, we tend to make decisions that are better for us long-term.  Brain scans bear this out.

One interesting study involved parole hearings in Israel.  The study showed that the committee was much more likely to parole inmates early in the morning or right after breaks/lunch.  In those cases coming up towards the end of the day, the chance of parole was very low.  The theory was that once decision fatigue kicked in, the committee members were less likely to do the hard analytical thinking on the case, and defaulted to the easy “no parole” decision.

BUT there is a cure!  And it’s a good one (unless you are on a diet).  According to the studies described in the article, glucose replenishes us and counteracts decision fatigue.

Who knew that M&M’s were so important to our ability to make good decisions?  Maybe Ronald Reagan was right all along to have a bowl of Jelly Belly’s at every cabinet meeting.

This creates a cruel irony for dieters.  You need willpower not to eat.  But every time you decide not to eat, you increase your decision fatigue and lower your willpower.  To get your willpower back, you need to eat.  (Of course, eat healthily, with proper proteins and grains etc. and you won’t need the sugar hit to recharge your willpower and decision making ability.)


Well, there’s a reason that, at the end of a day of tough negotiations, parties sometimes find that middle ground.  They are just too tired to continue.  “Oh heck, just give it to them, I want to go home.”  OR, there’s the possibility that a party will dig in his or her heels and turn down a good deal because it’s just too hard to process the long term gain:  “Forget it, I’ve been moving all day and I’m not going to move any more.”  What has your experience been?

But regardless, it seems like proper glucose intake throughout the day is the answer.  Which is why Judicate West is the best place to hold your mediations. It’s not just to keep the parties comfortable — those M&M’s actually help the parties (and your erstwhile mediator) make better decisions.

Thanks for the question.

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