Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Luxury of Time to Resolve Conflict

This past week I conducted a rare (for me) mediation in an outside office. For the past seven years, I have conducted my hearings in my own offices, or those of ADR Services. In each location, I have access to an office where I can obtain e-mail, voice mail, real mail or more during breaks and before and after the sessions. This one lasted eleven hours, during which I had no access to computer, voice mail or telephone messages. Although all of the participants were drained by the end, it occurred to me what a modern luxury is the gift of a full day "un-wired". Wouldn't we all appreciate having the undivided attention of a professional to spend the day listening to our problems and helping us achieve a satisfactory solution? Wouldn't we love if our spouse or children or parents, our partners or associates would similarly indulge us a full, uninterrupted day to think about how to make us feel better about past issues or relationships? I dare say that even a full day alone--without interruption from PDA's and phones, would go a long way towards helping any of us solve our problems. And so it occurred to me that one of the best features mediation has to offer is the eyes and ears of a professional who dedicates the day to helping the participants to solve their conflict. A full day's commitment to being unwired, unhurried, giving undivided attention to the participants is a wonderful luxury!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Leaving the Narrows

Last night we celebrated the beginning of Passover. During the Seder, we recall the story of Exodus--as the Jews fled Egypt, (where they were slaves) and travelled for 40 years, carrying journey bread, or Matzoh on their backs, until they reached what is now "Israel"--the land of milk and honey. The Hebrew word for Egypt is "Mizrayim" which is also the word for narrow places (loosely translated, I think). And so I considered all of the ways in which parties in conflict are in their own "narrows"--with walls to the left and to the right and only a glimmer of light between them. The challenge for the mediator is to guide the parties out of their personal narrow places and into a new state. It is the guidance from slavery or tyranny or debt to sweetness and hopefulness and freedom. With freedom, of course, comes a heavy responsibility. It is our challenge to inspire parties caught between only two choices (as in slave holders or slaves) to freedom fighters who, by their own might and imagination dare to visualize a different future and take that chance to achieve it. There are so many profound messages in the Passover story, but for now I wish to merely challenge my readers to dare to imagine a different choice than the obvious. Only then can we hope to transcend our own narrow places!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Empathy Deficit Disorder in the USA?

I recently borrowed Barack Obama's Book, "The Audacity of Hope" from my 80 year old father. I am intrigued by this articulate and engaging candidate--even though I meet every criteria to be a Hillary Clinton supporter (middle aged, professional, Caucasian woman). In the Chapter he calls "Values", he talks about his mother's simple principle--"How would that make you feel?" as a guidepost for his politics. Then he says, "It's not a question we ask ourselves enough, I think; as a country, we seem to be suffering from an empathy deficit." My own work as a mediator compels me to concur.

Lately, I have been mediating business disputes where employees urge fair treatment from their former employers, or a business deal gone sour demands recompense to make things right. On the other side, I see struggling business people and professionals who cannot afford the inflated demands made of them--even though they may have agreed to those terms (before the costs of litigation were added) in more economically favorable times. And I, standing "in the middle" can simply urge empathy. Obama says, "No one is exempt from the call to find common ground". I am grateful that I listened to the call and act daily in an effort to bring mutual understanding and then action by those in conflict. It's my own contribution towards addressing the Empathy Deficit Disorder from which our country may be suffering.