Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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I did some posts this week on my political blog, trying to understand why voters seem so angry this campaign season.  After trotting out some of the usual suspects like our dysfunctional government, and the economy, I turned to the touchier subjects of intolerance, racism and xenophobia.  We certainly have a lot of problems to deal with in our country right now, but my mind keeps returning to the question of why we need to react to those problems with anger and recrimination.  Didn’t we, less than two years ago, embrace the promise represented by the Obama campaign, of trying to approach our problems with a spirit of cooperativeness and inclusiveness?   A majority of the country actually elected a […]

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 […]

Way back when I served as a law clerk to a federal district court judge, I remember watching a trademark infringement bench trial about to begin. The parties had all their exhibits lined up; they had prepared their experts and their surveys; their attorneys announced that they were ready to proceed. Months before, I had worked on the opinion denying one side’s motion for summary judgment, so I knew that the parties had already invested in a lot of pre-trial proceedings. Before hearing opening statements, my judge advised the parties that he had formed no conclusions yet about which side was in the right. He told the parties and their attorneys that he would try to reach the correct result, […]