Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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The shocking story out of Phoenix this week about a shooting that took place after a mediation session, has understandably made mediators a bit jumpy. The case was the kind of ordinary contract dispute mediators see every day, between a furniture mover/refurbisher and a dissatisfied customer. The amount in dispute might have been less than $20,000.  Reports are that the furniture guy, representing himself, attended the mediation for an hour, and then said he had to get something from his car. What he got was his gun, and then he lay in wait outside the building for the opposing party and his counsel to come out whereupon he shot them both. Google maps photo People naturally wonder. Could this incident […]

Piers Morgan’s interview earlier this week with radio host Alex Jones has gotten lots of attention, due to Jones’s seemingly-unprovoked fiery outbursts and threatening manner. Morgan probably accomplished what he wanted to accomplish by having Jones on the show. He exposed the raving right wing conspiracy theories behind at least some Americans’ attachment to guns, and probably scared a lot of people already sympathetic to gun control. At the same time, however, Morgan probably didn’t convince a lot of people who might be sympathetic to Jones’s views, and he didn’t even begin to engage in a constructive dialogue about responses to the problem of gun violence that we might get most people to agree on. Was that Morgan’s fault? He […]

At a mediation seminar I attended this week, Doug Noll, a mediator from Fresno, California, along with Don Philbin, a mediator from Texas, explained that hardly any of the information we process in communication with others is contained in their words. Nearly all of it lies in people’s gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, and other non-verbal cues. Lawyers have trouble accepting this fact, trained as we are in the importance of words. And we haven’t grasped its full implications. What was most interesting to me was a technique Noll tried to teach us that demonstrates to another person that they have been heard and understood. Instead of the frequently-taught method of summarizing the gist of what someone has just […]

There is a lot in Daniel Kahneman‘s book Thinking, Fast and Slow of interest to mediators and other people involved in conflict. The book sums up a lifetime of work in psychology and economics, and serves almost as a catalog of cognitive biases we encounter in business, the legal system and elsewhere. One chapter describes the optimism bias, which may be essential to making capitalism function, but which also leads to many costly decisions for individuals. For example, the optimism bias leads entrepreneurs to expect success in opening their own small business such as a restaurant, despite the knowledge that the majority of such businesses fail within a few years. Kahneman also describes a similar bias he calls the planning […]

Often the judicial system, despite its flaws, is viewed as at least attempting to operate in a just and logical way, according to rules that we understand and agree upon. The hallmark of an informal dispute resolution system, on the other hand, is that it has no rules. It is seen as emotional as opposed to logical, and is also viewed as somehow cheating justice. When we look more closely at the human beings who use and operate the traditional justice system, we might have to question these stereotypes. I spent most of the past three days in continuing legal education on mediation, including moderating a panel this morning at an SCMA program on employment mediation. At one of the […]