Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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A long time ago, when I was fairly new at law practice, I represented a plaintiff in a contentious sexual harassment case against a large company. After a series of pre-trial battles, the defendant’s counsel opened the door to the possibility of settlement, throwing out an insultingly low-ball number. I wasn’t sure how to respond. At that point in my career, I thought I knew how to litigate, but nobody had ever taught me how to negotiate. I had never received any training in negotiation strategy in law school, and very little at my law firm. The subject simply wasn’t taught at the time. So I honestly didn’t know the best number to come back with in order to lead […]

Last night I had a chance to assist at an improvisation class, playing the role of mediator to actors working out various conflict situations. The class arose out of some discussions with the teacher, Rob Watzke, about the similarities between the techniques used in improvisation and mediation. In both situations, careful listening is imperative. You must be sensitive to the content as well as the emotional underpinnings of statements made by other participants in order to advance the process. In both situations, it is also important to stay positive. Whatever new bit of material is offered to you by a fellow improviser, you must use it. You cannot reject it, or the scene dies. Similarly, in mediation, it is better […]

Tina Fey’s book Bossypants has a chapter on her time with the Second City improvisational theatre troupe in Chicago. In it, she includes a section outlining four rules of improvisation. (This section is actually entitled “Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat,” although in a footnote she explains that these rules will not reduce belly fat.) These rules can nevertheless be useful in lots of situations, including mediation. I am not the first to note the similarities between mediation and improvisational theatre. Others, such as LA mediator Jeffrey Krivis, have written extensively about the applicability of improvisational skills in mediation and negotiation. Here are Tina Fey’s four rules: The first rule is always say yes. […]