Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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In a meeting with a group of mediators last night, one mediator told us that he believes it is important to suggest to the parties what he believes would be a “fair” settlement amount. Most of the rest of us were skeptical of this approach. Someone pointed out that the mediator often doesn’t have enough information to determine what a fair settlement might be, as sometimes one or both of the parties is withholding information that could materially affect the outcome. Others suggested that it is not the mediator’s job to try to arrive at an objectively “fair” result, only a result that is satisfactory to the parties. I think it can also interfere with a mediator’s effectiveness to attempt […]

I happened to hear a program on NPR this morning talking about a psychology experiment in which subjects were asked to memorize a number, then walk down the hall to another room and repeat the number. The trick was that half the group was given a two digit number and the other half a seven digit number. The second trick played on these unsuspecting subjects was that on the way to the second room, they were stopped by someone offering them a snack, who asked them to choose between a slice of chocolate cake and a bowl of fruit. It turns out that the people who were asked to remember the seven digit number are about twice as likely to […]

When acting as a mediator, I try to develop a level of trust and personal connection with the parties who come to me for assistance.  So I might talk about my family, or my hobbies, or my professional background and experience.  Trying to establish a rapport with the parties’ attorneys, I sometimes find myself listening to and telling war stories about experiences with various judges, or certain types of cases.  While sharing those stories can be a useful way of talking about the case at issue, there is a danger in doing too much of that.  The danger is that the parties sometimes get left out of the process.  Parties find themselves mystified by too much shop talk.  They may […]

If judges are sometimes too judgmental, and if attorneys sometimes have trouble shedding their role as advocates, then the ideal mediator may be a non-lawyer. Non-lawyers bring to the table whatever training they may have as counselors, coaches, social workers, therapists, businesspeople, or teachers. Or they could be part of a growing cadre of people specifically trained in the arts of negotiation and peacemaking. They should be able to see beyond the narrow legal problems of the participants, and deal with their emotional, financial or other interests. Having grown up with a psychiatrist and a social worker for parents, and having observed some counselors at work, I have a lot of respect for people in the mental health field. They […]