Valuation, Neuroscience and Negotiation – what do they have in common?

Valuation, Neuroscience and Negotiation

I have taken a video offered by a leader in field of neuroscience and shared his insights with you while applying his insights to my work with conflict associated with business valuations.  The intention is to provide you with ways in which you can explore your own perspective and that of the other side as you work to reconcile differences.

In this commentary by Richard Davidson, the founder and chair of the Center for Healthy Minds, at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he offers four science based keys to wellbeing.  Why is this important?  This is important for your own wellbeing and for understanding how these four constituents relate to a negotiation or a mediation between parties.  Exploring where you and the other party are coming from can help in addressing the area of concern in a negotiation or mediation related to a business valuation.  We clearly focus on the technical issues as business valuers, but with our brains being 98% emotional and 2% rationale, I would argue that considering your and the other party’s wellbeing is critical to working towards issue resolution.

The four constituents presented by Dr. Davidson are resiliency, outlook, attention and generosity.  All four areas exhibited plasticity, meaning they can be shaped or molded in the brain, and have been verified through neuroscience.  This means these can be strengthened with practice to promote a higher level of wellbeing.  Let’s take a look at the four areas according to Dr. Davidson and consider how they may impact a conflict associated with a business valuation working with another party.


He defines this as “the rapidity at which you recover from adversity”.  This varies markedly in people.     More rapid recovery in key areas is associated with a higher level of wellbeing.  Think about how long it takes for you to recover from adversity and think of this from the perspective of the other party.

We all know that negative things happen.  How we react to them is key.  How long it takes us to recover is key.  In his commentary he shares insights from his work that is not yet published.  He points out unfortunately, that changing ones resilience takes significant long term practice.  This does not improve rapidly.

Depending on your own resilience and the resilience of other party this can have a significant impact on any negotiation or mediation. Keep this in mind relative to your assessment of self and your assessment of the other party.  You or the other party may be at two very different levels.  Knowing this you may need more time or the other party may need more to recover from a negative event in the course of a negotiation or mediation related to a business valuation issue.


By outlook he is referring to a positive outlook.  It is our ability to see the positive attributes in others.  How much do we savor the experiences of others?  How much are we able to see the goodness in others?  Dr. Davidson points out that those with depression do not maintain a positive outlook very long.  This is transient in nature.

This is simple.  A positive outlook represents loving, kindness and compassion.  Meditation can foster this constituent.   A modest dose of practice can provide results relatively quickly.   Dr. Davidson offers 30 minutes a day for 7 days over only two weeks produced measurable positive results.

In a negotiation or mediation think of how you look at the other party and how the other party looks at you.  I have found in negotiations or mediations helping the parties to stop demonizing the other party, de-escalating the situation, and bringing the parties back to a neutral perspective of the goodness of the other party are critical towards moving the parties towards focusing on the issue(s).  Think of this from your perspective of the other party.  Think of this in terms of whether you are smiling and welcoming.  In what ways can you help to see the other party in positive terms?  In what ways can you help your client and members of your party to alter a negative perspective to at least a neutral perspective?  Stop calling the other party by names in private. Use their names.  Look for and verbalize the positive attributes of the other party.  See them as fellow peers and don’t take it personally regardless of how you are treated.


Paraphrasing from a Harvard Social Psychology study Dr. Davidson indicated that a wandering mind is an unhealthy mind.  The study he shared queried a very large sample using cell phones.  Participants were randomly called and asked three questions.  These were:

What are you doing right now (they had a host of pre-defined codes)?

Where is on your mind right now?  In essence are you focused on what you are doing?

Are you happy or unhappy right now?

On average 47% of the time participants were not paying attention to what they were doing.  Think of the impact of this.  What if we could improve this by just 5%?  Think of the impact on productivity.   This has a direct impact on judgment, character and wellbeing.

Returning to the area of negotiations and mediations this points out that having an environment where all of the senses are in a conductive environment conducive towards focusing attention on the issue is critical.   Think of the room, its shape, the colors, what is on the walls, the windows, the way the sun hits the room, the lighting, the table (a round table preferred), the sitting arrangements (next to each other instead of across from each other), comfortableness of the chairs, the temperature, , having appropriate snacks, water, beverages, a quiet setting, cell phones and computers off unless directly related to working on the issue, and other variables that allow the participants to focus on the issue(s). Do not allow interruptions.  Set up an environment for success.  Allow the parties to pay attention and focus on the issues.  This develops a better since of wellbeing.


This demonstrates altruistic behavior.  This can be actively cultivated and fosters wellbeing.  This is a more enduring activation.   This is shaped by training and experience.  We take responsibility for this either willingly or unwillingly.  

Think of those that are polite, give of themselves and their possessions as signs of their generosity towards others. This is appreciated.  Those that freely offer to have you go first, to share what they have personally and professionally build bonds. 

Again applying this to negotiations and mediations, be prepared to demonstrate generosity and giving as you approach business valuation issue(s).   Think of how your willingness to share and assist and being there to educate, rather than to debate can work to de-escalate and work towards issue resolution.

I have read of Benjamin Franklin’s technique of going to an opposing side’s personal library in their study, perusing the contents and asking to borrow a book to read.   This accomplished two tasks.  It allowed the other party to be generous with him, and it placed on obligation on him to return the book and potentially reciprocate with a gift to the other party.  Think of this and what you can do to demonstrate your generosity with others when in a negotiation or a mediation.  What can you offer to do?  Could you offer to do computations, additional research, provide the source of material that the other party does not have?   With the IRS being underfunded and the Large Business and International division where the IRS valuers reside having training cut 93% since 2010, I have asked my clients to share information with the IRS and to take the time to educate IRS employees on information they do not have access to. Listen, understand and be there to help.  Be generous with your time and your resources.  This may save considerable resources, frustration and anxiety.


The comments summarized from Dr. Davidson’s 14 minute video are informative related to wellbeing.  Taking these four points on wellness and considering their application to a negotiation or mediation from both your own perspective and from that of the other party can offer some interesting considerations.  It is in this light as a business valuer and a consultant on various matters with my clients in a business to business, business to government (IRS) and within businesses (board of director and shareholder disputes) that I wanted to share this information with you.  The technical issues are important, but I would argue the emotional elements are even more important when working to overcome conflict between parties.

Take into account your own resilience, that of your team and that of the opposing party when working an issue with your client. Maintain a positive perspective and work on maintaining at least a neutral perspective of an adversary.  Realize that they are human too and work to enhance your working relationship with the other party.   Develop a professional, positive working relationship.   Set up an environment that allows you and the other party to focus and pay attention to the issues at hand.  Finally, be generous with you time, your references and your knowledge to help educate the other party and to work with the other party to identify and address interests.   You know this as an expert witness in court when you are there to educate and help the trier of fact reach a conclusion.  Consider using this technique when you are involved with a negotiation or mediation relative to your business valuation as well.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]