Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Aggressive Diplomacy in Mediation

Barack Obama used a phrase which I thought curious this morning in response to a journalist's inquiry about nuclear capabilities by Iran. The phrase was: "Aggressive Diplomacy". When I was an undergraduate studying International Relations, such a term would have been considered an oymoron. Good diplomats were never "aggressive". Diplomats were clever, cautious, prudent, facilitative, skilled, smooth, adept--but not "aggressive". To the contrary, they were the folks called in to "mediate" when world leaders became or threatened to become aggressive!

My mediation style has followed that early training. I have always seen myself more of a good diplomat than an aggressive purveyor of peace or conflict resolution. Now that I consider it carefully, I might also reach the conclusion that my early training in "diplomacy" at Pomona College got in the way of being a fully aggressive litigator for the couple of decades I tried that approach.

Just for a challenge, I thought I'd exercise Obama's approach and aggressively pursue diplomatic efforts. Today, I mediated a dispute between a brother and sister who had not had much interaction since their mother died 13 years ago and they inherited the family home jointly. There were many moments when the parties, both unrepresented, nearly gave up. In this instance, I had to be "aggressive" in my pursuit of diplomatic relations to reach a detente between them and help them move on. I found myself consciously taking a proactive role in the way Obama outlined in the Middle East.

Coincidentally, I had the pleasure of running into my first "boss" at the office today (participating in another mediation). A colleague introduced me and said jokingly, "She couldn't have been trained by you, she's too nice." His response was "She was mean when she was litigating with me!". So here's the challenge: for thirty days, I'm going to make an effort to "aggressively" mediate every case. I will be more than a dipolomat. I will do whatever I can to settle every case, even those that are lingering on my credenza. I will consciously observe the effect on the litigants and whether they accept my taking on that role. Who knows? This could portend the new world order!