Promoting Honesty In Mediation By Face-To-Face Interactions (A Study)

Face-to-face interactions (photo by Marilyn Swanson)

By: Donald L Swanson

People are “more honest when communicating face-to-face than through an intermediary,” and that is true in “even the briefest of face-to-face interactions.”


Such are the findings of a study titled, “I Can’t Lie to Your Face.” [Fn. 1]

Face-to-face interactions in the study involve visual access and vocalizations between people.  Such interactions are what promotes increased honesty:

  • by activating moral interests; and
  • in even the briefest of face-to-face interactions    

That’s because visual and auditory cues in face-to-face interactions increase the rate of social information transmission, which improves coordination and reduces miscommunication, which in turn develops rapport and cooperation—thereby reducing the likelihood of deception.

Moreover, face-to-face interactions increase the likelihood that deception-signaling nonverbal cues will leak out.

Implications for Mediation

The study finds that face-to-face interactions lead to greater honesty rates, when compared to interactions through an intermediary.

–Caucus-Only Format

Such a finding has significance for the caucus-only format that is common in mediation of lawsuit disputes.

In a caucus-only mediation, each party often arrives at the mediator’s office, only to be shuttled immediately into a separate room (never to even see the other side during the mediation session, except on visits to the toilet), with the mediator shuttling offers and explanations back and forth. 

–A Problem & A Solution

When honesty is important, this never-see-the-other-side approach is a problem. 

So, the mediator should insure that the parties meet with each other (and say something to each other) for at least a short time at the beginning of the mediation session.  Or better yet, have them communicate directly and extensively with each other on the substance of the dispute. That will help!


The findings of the study discussed above are intuitive and unsurprising.  

When honesty is important in a mediation, therefore, the mediator needs to take the study’s findings to heart and manage the mediation accordingly.  


Footnote 1.  “I Can’t Lie to Your Face”: Minimal Face-to-Face Interaction Promotes Honesty, is the full title of the study, written by Alex B. Van Zant and Laura J. Kray. It is published in Vol. 55 of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, at 234-238 (Nov. 2014).  All information above about face-to-face interactions is from this study.

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