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Mental Health Challenges at the Table
Elizabeth Jeglic & Alexander Jeglic
Editors’ Note: It’s all but routine for a negotiator leaving a meeting to mutter under her breath concerning the perceived mental health issues of someone on the other side. Unfortunately, the research now demonstrates that such suspicions may not always be unreasonable. Mental health issues, it turns out, do not prevent people from assuming and holding high status in many kinds of organizations, so you may be negotiating with borderline mentally ill people with some regularity. Furthermore, we know that high-stress situations like the death of a family member, divorce or job changes, which often lead to negotiations, can trigger mental illness. Here, a psychologist and a lawyer (and sister and brother) analyze the most common types of mental illness, and tell you what to expect from each of the types you are most likely to encounter in negotiations. Crucially, they also provide recommendations as to how to deal with the reality of each type of mental illness.
One assumption that is commonly made when negotiating is that the other negotiating party is rational, and thus capable of making logical decisions. However, approximately 1 in 5 Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder during the course of any given year (National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) 2013). This means that an estimated 44 million adults in the United States (NSDUH 2013) have a diagnosable mental illness that could significantly impair their ability to engage in rational negotiations.
The presence of a mental disorder can cause the person to distort information and facts, process information incorrectly, or be detached from reality. Certain mental disorders can also cause the person to be callous, manipulative or delusional (American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2013). In addition, we must take into account that individuals with a mental disorder may have limited insight into their disorder, and it is possible that they may be unaware of how the disorder may be impacting upon their functioning.
To further complicate matters, it may not be immediately obvious that someone has a mental disorder. Unlike other types of medical disorders, a mental disorder does not have readily identifiable physical symptoms. Therefore, significant negotiations may have already taken place before a red flag is raised and those involved in the negotiations realize that something is amiss. Mental disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety spectrum disorders, psychopathy and psychotic disorders can all impact an individual’s ability to engage in rational negotiations. The goal of this chapter is to outline some of the effects that mental illness can have on negotiations.
Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting an estimated 6.9 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year, translating into about 16 million people in the United States who are suffering from major depression annually (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2013). It is the leading cause of disability in the world (World Health Organization (WHO) 2001) and is characterized by feelings of depression, hopelessness, and a loss of interest and pleasure in daily activities that last for at least 2 weeks in duration and that interfere with a person’s ability to function on a daily basis (APA 2013). Furthermore, depression can cause eating disturbances (eating too much or too little), sleeping disturbances (sleeping too much or too little), a loss of energy, psychomotor agitation or retardation, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, problems concentrating or making decisions, and suicidal thoughts or actions (APA 2013).
According to the cognitive theory of depression, a key feature of the disorder is the depressed individual’s negative view of themselves, their future and the world (Beck 1963; Beck 1987). These views are maintained by negative mental biases, called cognitive distortions, which cause the depressed person to interpret innocuous information in a negative way. For example, depressed individuals are more likely to draw strong negative conclusions without supporting evidence (Haaga, Dyck and Ernst 1991). This type of thinking bias could have a large impact on...
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