I’m on a listserve out of New York, for mediators situated in New York and anyone with a general interest in mediation. I have local mediator and visual mediation guru Lisa Arora to thank for that connection! Check out Lisa’s website if you’re interested in how visual graphics and dispute resolution can go together.
One benefit of being on this New York listserve is to hear what is catching the attention of various mediators. New York mediator Charles Newman offered a wonderful email recently about the idea of “breaking bread” as a way to encourage peacemaking. He sparked an online conversation about what mediators have noticed about having food present in conflict/dispute resolution situations.
Charles cited the article that got him thinking: a March 16 edition of the The Economist, about sharing food and cooperative behaviours. The article cited a study published showing that in a negotiation, the increase in cooperation is greater when participants take from shared serving plates, rather than being served individual portions. And it’s true for friends and strangers.
One surprising result Charles highlighted is that setting up the meal so that all parties take their portions from a shared resource, can help regulate behaviours toward being more mindful of the needs of other people. The study (from the March 2019 issue of Psychological Science) set up meals which had individuals eat food from the same bowl (for example, sharing taco chips and salsa) vs from individual bowls. It was the ones who had the shared meal who behaved more cooperatively and less competitively toward each other, compared with those eating the same food from separate plates. The shared eating, reinforced by social norms such as not wanting to be seen as taking too much, puts one in a cooperative state of mind.
That makes sense!
Early on in my mediation career, my co-mediator and I brought a bowl of jelly beans to a mediation. It was a victim-offender mediation, where the parents of a young man were meeting with him and the person he had offended to talk about what happened and how to make things right. My co-mediator and I (a wonderful mentor of mine, Camilla Witt, who left us too soon a few years ago) – got this brainstormed idea to get jelly beans and put them in a bowl. We started the mediation with the chairs arranged in a circle, and the bowl of jelly beans in the middle of the circle.
Seeing the jelly beans sitting there was already a type of unifying force and when the young man reached down to take the bowl and then to pass them around the circle, his gesture said volumes about the kind of tone he wanted to set with the adults gathered. Needless to say, it resolved well.
The kind of research this study conducted reminds us that we might not realize all the benefits we get out of eating with other people.
So the next time you might be experiencing tensions with another, can you bring the sharing of food together in, to help you work together on solving tough problems.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
… Virginia Woolf