“Hope springs eternal,” wrote poet Alexander Pope in his famous An Essay On Man, originally published in 1734.

With that optimistic spirit in mind, for this New Year’s Day post I commend readers to Tim Urban’s blog post entitled Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy.

Urban’s post directly addresses reasons for the many frustrations and disappointments frequently experienced by people born between the late 1970s and mid-1990s.

Did I mention something about hope at the outset?  So why bring up frustration and disappointment?  The answer lies, as it often does at mediation, in turning around the question.  The opposite of frustration and disappointment is success and satisfaction.  The question becomes, then, how to achieve success and satisfaction in life.  Thus, the fundamental premise of Urban’s insightful post relates to how success is achievable.

Urban posits that happiness boils down to a straightforward formula:


Urban includes a brilliant graph that makes it easy to envision how to achieve success at mediation and beyond:



Note how the real grass is just a little taller than the expected grass.  The expectations are realistic.  Yet at the same time, the expectations can be exceeded with the requisite degree of effort.

How does this relate to mediation?  It can be fairly said that the difference between reality and expectations measures success or failure at most mediations. Parties who achieve results close to their expectations usually end up mostly satisfied. Those parties who achieve results beyond their expectations tend to be very satisfied. And those parties who settle, usually reluctantly, for far below their expectations leave very disappointed.

“Adjusting expectations” has become such a key role for the Mediator that at conferences we often use shorthand to describe the task and tools needed to perform it. We joke about having to perform “expectation-ectomies” when parties arrive at mediation with absurdly lofty expectations. “Reality testing” is how we describe one of the more popular means for “re-setting” a party who genuinely expected something far different from what is realistic at mediation, or in court for that matter.

In preparing clients for mediation, counsel might want to keep in mind the old business adage and endeavor to “underpromise and overdeliver.”

And in preparing yourself for the ups and downs of 2017 and beyond, you might want to consider underpromising and overdelivering to yourself.

–  Rob Daisley