September 08, 2016 Articles

Using Meditation Techniques to Succeed During Stressful Negotiations

By Kaitlyn M. Murphy

Meditation is the mental state of being focused on the present moment, including on one’s feelings, thoughts, and sensations. Recent studies in the field of neuroscience provide empirical support for the proposition that meditation’s focus on the present moment and a meditator’s effort to maintain equanimity in the face of whatever presents itself offer tangible benefits to those who engage in strategic and adversarial work. These studies suggest that meditation can actually change the brain’s neural networks. In one study, MRIs of subjects participating in an eight-week mindfulness practice showed a decrease in the size of the amygdala—the portion of the brain most closely associated with fear and other strong emotions. Other studies identify a correlation between mindfulness practices and decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Attorneys are engaged in strategic and adversarial work almost constantly. Litigators in particular spend much of their time negotiating with opposing counsel without the benefit of a neutral party like a judge or arbitrator. Ahead of its time, the Harvard Negotiation Law Review hosted a forum nearly 25 years ago on the potential implications of meditation for lawyers. In the wake of recent research, top law schools like the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia have started offering meditation programs and courses to law students.

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