Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Peacemaker's Picnic

Today I attended (alright, I planned...) the Southern California Mediation Association's First Annual Peacemaker's Picnic! It was a great chance to see one another as people in relation to other people who are not necessarily mediators: mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, even dogs and masters gathered together to enjoy a hot dog, some pretty hiking trails, a great lawn for throwing a frisbee and some fresh, outside air. It was a great chance to see men unshaven, women in T-shirts and shorts, dirty feet and happy children...Often I think we take on so much responsibility to be sober truth-sayers, speakers of other people's truths, bearers of other people's conflict...that we don't take the time to see one another as participants in the human joys of hot dogs and brownies and admiring other people's babies and ill-behaved dogs. Again, it's a matter of living life deliberately: including hard work and relaxation. A fine way to end a weekend!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Taking Time Out to Gain Perspective

I'm writing this from the cockpit of our new sailboat, "Time Out" on Catalina Island. I can't help but reflect on how taking some "time out" to do some perspective taking is such a healthy exercise. It is really why I ask every party mediating before me to come to my office--away from their usual trappings and try for a few hours to gain some perspective on the conflict their enmeshed in. I also had the pleasure of substitute teaching for a class at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution this week. Seeing mediation through the eyes of students was another perspective I had not taken the time to experience in quite awhile. Many of the students were also law students and my observation was stunning to me: being in the world of "law" and training to figure out who's right and who's going to win at trial is a real impediment to mediating!

So this week I'm thankful--that I have a chance to gain some perspective now and then...and that I have the blessing of inviting people in conflict to take a much needed "time out" to do the same.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Private Dialogues on Public Issues

While on vacation last week, I saw the Michael Moore's brilliant new documentary, "SIcko". We've all been there: in the place where we've hesitated about getting needed health care until we can figure out what's covered by insurance. So why isn't America discussing this issue? I've decided it's time for mediators to take a crack at it. I've invited an elite corps of commercial and community mediators together in the Fall to begin to promote public dialogue on the health care system in America. I intend to invite elected officials, insurance and hospital owners or at least managers and free clinic directors with a hope that this will begin a respectful process of discussing the issues, better understanding the various perspectives and lending our skill set to the fray with a goal towards initiating needed change. Why do movie producers get to have all of the fun? On another note, over my holiday I read my favorite book of all time, "A Thousand Splended Suns", by Khaled Hosseini. As agitated as I was after watching "SIcko", Hosseini's book made me feel darn lucky to have been born in America, raised my children in a land that valued personal freedom, and generally followed a code of law with which I could abide. If you have a summer vacation planned, I highly recommend you read it. It's haunting, but ultimately gratifying and beautifully written. The story takes place in more or less modern day Afghanistan, beginning in the 1970's. It is the story of two women's lives, how they intertwine and are affected by the political events over the past thirty years. It is written by the author of "The KiteRunner", which was also a fabulous read. Hosseini was born in Kabul, but has been in the United States since 1980. Bravo for bringing these stories to life and bringing these hard topics to American readers!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Interest Based Negotiation Applied Effectively

Last week I had the privilege of studying with Randolph Lowry, the President of Lipscomb University and one of the founders of both the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution and the Southern California Mediation Association, an organization of which I am the current President (18 years later!). Lowry co-taught a course on Advanced Mediation Skills with Judge Jack Etheridge, another founder of SIDR, retired Judge from Atlanta, Georgia. To be honest, the course seemed a bit elementary to me at the time. But this week, I had a mediation in which I applied my new-found "interest based negotiation" skills. I have learned from this blog experience, that I need to carefully disguise my facts to protect the confidentiality of the parties. So here's a quick synopsis of my fictional experience.

A mid-50's firefighter is out for his morning jog, when he is struck by a car and badly injured. As a result, he is unable to re-gain use of his right ankle, and accordingly has to accept an early retirement and is completely dependent upon his wife, a pre-school teacher, for basic, daily care. Their future is completely changed. Unfortunately, the driver has an insurance policy that is limited to $15/$30K, leaving them without a remedy that will provide enough funds for both the attorney and medical liens. Here was an instance where mediation was clearly more about the process than the outcome. I faced this bravely and strategically, preparing both sides for what I anticipated would be an emotional joint session. What I discovered, when I probed deeper, was that here was a couple whose life was out of their own control, beginning on the day of the accident. The victim of the accident was accustomed to "taking charge": he would be able to respond to an emergency and literally "put out fires". His wife, for her part, was used to imposing simple, human rules: show up, sit in your seat, wait your turn and speak up when called upon. The absence of the adverse driver from the proceeding infuriated them.

The resolution involved a promise by the insurance carrier to accompany the victim's lawyer to the home of the insured driver. They needed an explanation and proof that he was truly unable to do anything to compensate the victim or his family. This was more about "doing the right thing"--for both the insurance company and the victim and his wife, than about the monetary damages they had the potential to receive. The money was the easy part, but was clearly insufficient to satisfy them. What I learned from Lowry and Etheredge, however, was that the "law" only gives money as a remedy in civil actions. And this couple wanted something different.

This negotiation lasted all day, but resulted in a satisfying process and outcome for the participants and the mediator. Thank you, to Randy Lowry and Jack Etheridge, for giving this mediator the courage to explore the parties interests, even while knowing the positions and ultimate outcome.