Sunday, December 20, 2009

Does Staying Neutral Require Staying Up in the Air?

I went to the movies last night and saw "Up in the Air". There were so many messages for a mediator, I'm still trying to process them. The story revolves around George Clooney's job flying around the Country to terminate people from their employment for Big Co. He does his best to re-frame the moment into an opportunity and indeed, seems to succeed at finding the one passion or interest in the person's past that was set aside for all the years of his/her employment that truly drives them. Through a brief, but ever so personal interaction, he attempts to give them hope that their future may be brighter than their past. It is a technique we mediator's call "re-framing" and most of the time, when it's done with thoughtfulness and sincerity, it works to help people accelerate acceptance of a less than optimal result.

Enter a very young Cornell alumna who seeks to revolutionize this business by terminating the employees via Skype. It sounds a little like internet based mediation to me. (I never understood that either). She uses the same approach (even the same lines), but this time is one step removed. NEUTRAL! She makes no personal connection and remains "Up in the Air". On the interpersonal level, both the Clooney character and the attractive young woman find they are unable to make or maintain genuine personal relationships. Their "up in the air" status precludes them from finding a center or home that is meaningful to either of them.

And so it brings me to wonder whether being neutral actually requires the proverbial being "up in the air" (as in not taking sides) or whether it's possible to be bi-lateral instead--meaning human and empathic towards both sides of a controversy.

I really enjoyed this movie and recommend that if you see it you consider these underlying issues...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Impasse is Something That Happens Pre-Mediation

In preparing for a Class I teach at Cal. State Northridge tonight on "Breaking Impasse" something occurred to me for the first time. Virtually all cases come to mediation already at impasse or deadlock. If they were in a productive and on-going negotiation, they wouldn't seek out a mediator. They would be able to resolve the conflict on their own. By showing up for a mediation, the parties to the conflict are offering the mediator the keys to unlock the "deadlock" and begin the movement needed to get to a resolution. Because my students are primarily engaged in community-type mediation, working on conflicts which are not in litigation, I also offered them two statistics: 1) In Los Angeles County, 96% of cases that are filed in court are resolved without going to trial (outside of court); 2) Of the cases that are NOT filed as Lawsuits, 100% are somehow resolved. None of those go to trial and somehow, they all go away or transform into something the parties can tolerate. So in the sphere of all conflicts, it's really a tiny percentage that end in such a "deadlock" that they can only be resolved by a Judge, jury or arbitrator declaring someone is right and someone is wrong. Surprising? Yes, but it sure gives mediators a huge opportunity to serve!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Stories We Tell

I've just returned from travelling to Chicago for our daughter's engagement party and I'll admit it, I am one of those travellers who enjoys talking to strangers. I find that because of the temporary nature of their acquaintance, you can often learn more about their lives than they would share with their most intimate friends. On the way back to the airport, I was (affectionately at least) teasing my 82 year old mother, who, by that time, was getting on everybody's nerves. The woman seated across from us smiled and said, "that puts a good perspective on my weekend". She had, we soon learned, been in Chicago to bury her mother, who died suddenly. She learned of the death not from her estranged brother (who lived there), but from a cousin, who posted it on "Facebook". On the trip home, I sat beside a woman about my age who told me she'd have help making Thanksgiving dinner this year from her son, who was attending culinary school. I learned later that he had dropped out of High School after his parents spent $48,000. in rehab therapy, and that she was struggling with her husband to persuade him to allow him to stay in the family home after he turns 18 next month.

In the mediations over which I preside, I hear so many personal stories of strangers. They are grateful to have someone who will objectively hear them out. What did I do wrong to deserve to be fired from my job? Why didn't he appreciate the loyalty and energy I put into building his business over so many years? Why didn't they like me on the floor of the hospital where I worked? Why didn't they understand that I just needed some more time to heal? Why didn't they know how badly I was hurting? Why didn't they apologize?

The stories and small acts of kindness of strangers can make so much difference. Listening to the stories and reflecting on the little acts which make a life can be so important. On this Thanksgiving morning, I am so grateful to have these opportunities--large and small to provide perspective, levity, hope and friendship to strangers among us. Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

To Avoid a Claim for Malpractice, California Court says Keep Your Mediator Present at All Times

Both the mediation and legal communities in California are abuzz about the Court of Appeals decision in Cassel v. Superior Court (Cal. App. 2 Dist. November 12, 2009)which held that attorney client communications are not protected from becoming evidence when they take place at mediation if the mediator isn't in the room at the time of the communication. Apparently, a well respected lawfirm, Wasserman, Camden and Comden, strongly urged it's client, Mr. Cassel, to accept a $1 million settlement during a private meeting at the mediation. Mr. Cassel agreed and the settlement was drawn up. Now Mr. Cassel is claiming his lawyers coerced him into the settlment and in doing so, breached their fiduciary duty to him. Not only does he seek to unravel the settlement, but seeks additional damages from his attorneys. The Court created a judicial exception to the confidentiality statue where the communication was solely between lawyer and client. Lesson? Lawyer beware. Never let the mediator out of your sight lest your advice, if accepted, maybe subject to later challenges. And your settlement may be unenforceable. Sounds like a good deal for mediators, and a raw deal for mediation confidentiality. Lots to think about on this one.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mediator's Ethics: Does it Include a Just Outcome for the Disputants?

Yesterday I attended the Southern California Mediation Association's 21st Annual Conference. The piece by Professor/Dean Peter Robinson of The Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University really caused me to examine my practice. Although the talk was billed as "Ethics for Mediators", Professor Robinson provoked us to question whether mediator's have a heightened duty to make sure that whatever agreements we "broker" have legitimacy, integrity and meet legal standards. The legal standards would, of course, include only those agreements which were not entered under duress or coercion, were based upon informed consent and entered into by a person of sound mind and capacity. Robinson suggests that this is all the more important because if a party enters into an agreement in the context of mediation, he or she can never establish that the agreement was unfair and therefore set it aside later. Hmmm...This puts a burden upon the lawyer mediator that I'm not sure I'm willing to accept. I was pretty satisfied being staunchly "impartial" and allowing the parties to exercise their self determination. And yet....It's noteworthy to point out that there are Model Standards for Mediators, which are a little different from those adopted here in California, that require both self-determination and fairness. Occasionally, these contradict one another. I have frequently presided over mediations in which I believed that one side was getting an unfair "deal"--but did not intervene to re-balance the terms of a deal which both sides agreed to enter into. While I routinely "test" whether there is money left on the table, for example, I typically refrain from interfering in a negotiation which seems to me to be imbalanced. I assume that each party, always acting through their attorneys in my case, have their own reasons for doing what they are about to do--even if it doesn't make sense to me. There is something driving them to reach the deal that they strike--and I'm generally satisfied that I need not safeguard the "outcome", just the fairness of the process. Robinson's lecture suggests otherwise. I'm still examining...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Do Mediators Do Justice?

I mediated a couple of tough sexual harassment and wage and hour cases this past week. At the end of one, the owner of the company asked me a probing question: "Is there no justice in this Country?" I had to step back and contemplate that one. Our California employment laws are particularly protective of employees. They have the right to rest and meal breaks, regular hours (or paid overtime subject to very specific pay rates) a workplace free of what used to be called "flirtation", particularly by their supervisors, and on it goes. And yet...the result can cost the employer much more than the employee would have earned, based upon penalties, attorneys fees and tort damages. So is it justice to settle a case for that kind of payment even in this tough economy? I maintain that what I do is it's own brand of justice: I help parties reach deals which roughly reflect a careful analysis of what a jury or judge would do, tempered by the ability to pay and the savings of avoiding a trial. Is it fair? Is there justice in this Country? These are hard questions. Sometimes I'm glad I'm not a Judge and don't have to bear the price of justice on my shoulders.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Duty to Clients or Country?

It is about to happen to me. Next week, I anticipate receipt of a subpoena to testify in Federal Court about a mediation over which I presided 18 months ago. I have already received the Court order telling the parties to request my declaration (which I refused to do.) Here's the deal: U.S. District Court civil rights action. No offers made and the case did not settle before me. 18 months later, the case went to trial and the Plaintiff got a "modest" verdict. The parties are now fighting about attorneys fees. The court seems to be persuaded by the Defense's position that the case could have been settled for the amount of the verdict at the mediation. (But of course, it wasn't!) I discarded my notes a year ago, but have orally communicated with both lawyers that my recollection is that no offer was made. Certainly, the case didn't settle--so what difference does it make? It's a perilous position for the court or the attorney's to take: if you fail to accept a low-ball offer, you may not be able to recover your fees if you do better than that at trial unless it's huge. While up until now I considered the attorneys and their clients to be "my clients", I intend to refuse to testify under the confidentiality protections. I guess I feel a little differently about my "duty to country" in the face of a Subpoena to testify to a Federal Judge about matters I consider to be strictly confidential. I'm left feeling angry that the Court may determine this in ways that contravene the policies favoring mediation through confidential communication. I'm lefting feeling angry that I will have to go through the expense of refusing to comply with a Federal subpoena in order to safeguard this process.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lessons from the International Academy of Mediators

I attended an excellent Professional Conference this month in London, The International Academy of Mediators, "What Can we Learn from Each Other". During the conference, a full day's mock mediation was staged. It was the first I'd ever seen where professional actors were employed to demonstrate the raw emotionality that so often surfaces in civil mediation. So this week, I gave it a try. I facilitated two joint sessions in cases in which I would normally have kept the parties separate. In the first, the lawyer blew up and shouted in ways that were unexpected to me, her client and opposing counsel. Just as I had observed Avi Schneerson at the IAM do, I sat quietly and allowed that anger to boil over into the joint session. Within a very few minutes, there were huge concessions following that outburst and the case was settled within 30 minutes thereafter. In the other case, I spent over two hours preparing for the hearing by discussing the relative positions of the parties through their counsel. This one turned out to be more procedural than fact-based, but the lawyers weren't communicating with one another, rather they were busy advocating for their clients. So I took the chance to conduct that one with all lawyers together in a joint session for almost all of the negotiation. Lo and behold, they were much more civil to one another when sitting together in a room without their clients then I would have anticipated and the case was also settled in 4 hours. Thanks to my fellow IAM members, and a couple of paid actors, the theater of my mediation hearings proved to be a great laboratory for new lessons learned, including bravely allowing conflict and emotionality to be demonstrated publicly in order to truly allow the parties to get to a resolution.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Respect of a Man

My youngest son will turn twenty one tomorrow. This is a hat tip to Jordan, aka "Mr. Schau" of Mr. He is my webmaster and also the host of a site known as "". He is most certainly a rising "bon vivant". He leaves today for Las Vegas and then after he drops his bags at Columbia in New York, where he will be Junior in the Engineering Program at SEAS, he will meet his sister in Nice, France for a quick vacation abroad on Tuesday.
But this entry is not about Jordan, but about the two mediations over which I presided this week. Without revealing any confidential information, the first was the wrongful termination of a young, Hispanic kitchen worker and the second was a contract issue by a well known celebrity. Both cases were resolved, with hugely different results monetarily, but with a single commonality. Each of these men brought their legal claims because they were disrespected in the workplace and the only means to attain the respect to which each knew instinctively they were entitled was to seek legal redress. The kitchen worker was not represented by counsel, but the celebrity could also not get his point across without legal representation. In the end, once I was able to acknowledge and confirm their positions and contributions to the Companies to which they had dedicated years of work, the money part was easily resolved. The Companies they sued were not able or willing to acknowledge or value those contributions without engaging a mediator who could evaluate them with a degree of neutrality. I would conclude it was also a degree of humanity--which often times a corporate culture doesn't bring to the table.
So here's to you, Jordan, and to all good men: may you always act with integrity, work with intelligence and humanity to others and earn the respect of others and to acknowledge the contribution of your friends and colleagues.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mediating Civil Rights Issues

I was struck by the latest bipartisan efforts at mediating civil rights. Yes, it's true, apparently Rev. Al Sharpton and Former Congressman Newt Gingrich are on a road trip promoting equal education in America! Bravo! I'm currently reading an excellent novel, "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett, which addresses civil rights in Mississippi. The shocking part of the story is not the tender discussion of disparities between the Southern White families and their African-American maids, but rather how recent this disparity existed! The story reads as though it's another century, but takes place in the 1960's. It's a story of a White woman writing the "stories" of a dozen maids about their experiences working for White families: they raise their children, nurse them when they are elderly and all the while attempt to maintain their own lives and families on limited income and unequal liberties and opportunities. Now, nearly 50 years later, the news in America is indicating the government is relying upon a partnership of Sharpton and Gingrich to bring this conversation forward once again with respect to education. It's shocking, and yet, so compelling. Partnerships, alliances, dialogue is the only way change can be meaningfully made. Bravo to Kathryn Shockett for taking on this raw conversation, and kudos to Sharpton and Gingrich for continuing the dialogue towards a better future for our kids--all of them!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Beer Summit

Here's to President Obama and his brave and wise staff who understood the power of mediation this week as he invited the Harvard Professor to confront and discuss his arrest with the Cambridge Police Chief at the White House. There were so many mediator techniques brewing that afternoon, that I wanted to take a moment to reflect on them. First, there was an invitation for dialogue. There were no guarantees that there would be a particular outcome, but in the heat of the conflict, somebody had the wisdom to bring the conflicting parties together for the purpose of discussing their different perspectives and exploring options for improving the relations between African Americans and Police in America in the future. Second, there was a "third sider" present: not necessarily Obama, who actually took sides when he called the Cambridge Police Officer's conduct "stupid", but Joe Biden--who had no dog in the fight. (You'll notice that Biden did not drink alcoholic beer. Interesting, but maybe not coincidental.) Third, there was a balance: two African-American Harvard trained participants would not have achieved the level of impartiality that a true mediation would require as against a single, Caucasian (probably not Harvard trained, Ivy league, elite?) Police Officer. Although a mediator need not be a separate race from the disputants, in this case, the commonality of Obama with one of the disputants would likely have raised eyebrows had he been alone to face the Police Officer after calling his conduct "stupid" in a press conference. Fourth, they offered confidentiality: although the Press was invited to take the initial irresistible photos, they were expressly excluded from the dialogue itself. The parties were then at liberty to express their interests and perspective without risking losing face or conceding anything concrete. Finally, informality: have you seen other photos of such an informal meeting with the President of the United States? Obama was in shirt sleeves, without jacket or tie, at a table on the lawn. The table was round (not a true "summit") and the dialogue was not recorded. All of this facilitated the true dialogue that perhaps will begin or advance the discussion of racism in America. Bravo for the mediators!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Mediator's Perspective: Taking Time Out

I had a tough week this week. I presided over two particularly challenging and emotional disputes: issues of betrayal, interpersonal trust and respect, dashed hopes, lost profits, desperate measures and counsel who were not always in control of the perspective they needed to help resolve the conflict.

As we do on most weekends during summer, yesterday, we took our sailboat, "Time Out" out to sea for several hours with old friends for several hours. Watching the extraordinary surf hit the beaches of Southern California was so much the medicine I needed, that we ended up staying the night in the Marina.

When I arrived home this morning, my sons told me of the news of Lily Burk's apparent murder on Skid Row at age 17. Our children attended the same School as Lily. Her mom is a lawyer and adjunct faculty at a local law school. The news was nothing less than shocking, deeply disturbing and all too close. Though we didn't know her or her family, at a memorial service for a classmate's Dad today, I spoke with one of the teachers from Oakwood, who expressed his profound grief and loss. Seeing Mickey Morgan that profoundly lost, I'm imagining that this event will forever change the Oakwood community: it will take a long time to restore that hope and optimism that gives the school that "anything is possible" attitude. Simply stated, it made my "tough week" seem trivial by contrast. Even mediator's need lessons in perspective taking, and I'm so sorry that it took this horrible tragedy to wake me up this week.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Value of a Symbolic Commitment

Our daughter became engaged to be married last night. Although the groom to be has been a steady boyfriend for over two years and we were all pretty certain he was "the one", the symbolic commitment that accompanied the diamond ring on her finger was/is HUGE! It occurred to me that when I mediate cases to a settlement, the signing ritual, the handshake, the acceptance of the "proposal" is more than a mere gesture. It also symbolizes a commitment to conform with the legal constraints that go beyond the casual promise or mutual assumptions. Until our daughter's boyfriend put a ring on her finger last night, his words of commitment could have been interpreted as temporal, happy for the moment, maybe even non-committal. Now, his intent is clear, he's invested in the process, and would have a much harder time reneging on his promise to marry next year than he would without the ring, ritual and public announcement. Next time you're tempted to leave a mediation based upon a handshake, think again. The symbols of commitment to a future agreement can mean a great deal in love and law!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Games People Play

I mediated an interesting case today because the two opposing counsel played poker together with some regularity. What this meant is that they both had a friendly degree of distrust, as well as respect for the other's ability to bluff, on the one hand, and to win on the other. I often see and even describe the negotiation process in a mediation as a game (usually of chess, implying strategic moves in anticipation of reciprocal moves designed to bring the opposing party to where the other wants them to be), but rarely do I overtly reference the bluffing that takes place in poker. Yet it is so apt! Consider the risk taker, the card counter, the one who is too obviously risk-adverse, or fearful of losing it all. These are frequently prototypical personalities represented in a mediation. So it was with much amusement that these two gentleman deftly conveyed their positions to me and then to one another and back and forth until they were fully engaged in the process--leaving with plans for more when additional parties (presumably not represented by part of their poker group) return to the table! There is much to be learned from excellent poker players, but when two of them meet--it's probably best to grab a beer and let it unfold! Happy 4th of July!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fate is for Juries

I have been struggling with a few Mediator Proposals lately. At the point at which the parties invite me to propose the solution, typically the negotiations have threatened to break down, with a gap that would appear insurmountable. Often, it signals that the parties and their advocates are willing to leave their destiny to fate. Peter Adler, in his new book "Eye of the Storm Leadership", calls these breakdowns "not aberrations, but solutions in progress". A mediator's proposal is not supposed to reflect the likely jury result. That is a measure of fate, with a winner and a loser. It is high stakes, and high risk to both parties. The mediator's proposal, instead, is supposed to be a reflection of what will work to settle the conflict (the solution in progress): a measured consideration based upon a series of confidential communications reflecting the downsides on both sides of a conflict as well as the potential. I am no palm-reader, but when I arrive at a mediator's proposal that is accepted by both sides, I know that it is not reflective of a jury's deliberation, but of my own assessment of the likeliest solution to the conflict presented.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Women and Empathy: Is there a Difference?

I was struck by President Obama's appointment of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Supreme Court Justice this morning. In choosing her, he affirmed that he was looking for a woman as well as a person who held a "different sense of justice", by which I understood that he was seeking out someone who would listen to the legal issues of the day with a certain empathy that may be harder to attain in a man. I had dinner with a friend from law school over the weekend, who has been a Superior Court Judge for 12 years. She readily admitted that she believes women bring a heightened sense of empathy to negotiation, and when acting as a mediator. I personally attributed my empathetic leanings to being a mother. Isn't that part of the job description? And yet, Judge Sotomayor is apparently single and without children. So is there a true genetic difference? I have recently taken an advanced training by Dana Curtis (also a woman, and I don't know if she's a mom) on empathy. It was based upon very specific steps which will open both the listener and disputant to a sense of empathy at every level of the negotiation (including the money side after insulting offers and demands were exchanged). As usual, I don't have the answers to these questions, but I'm undertaking an updating of my old "gender and negotiations" talk to study the specific question of "Learning Empathy: Can Men Learn to Listen Like Women and Women Learn to Speak like Men?" Do they/we want to?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Clinton and Communitarianism

I had the privilege of hearing former President Bill Clinton speak last night at the ACCAmerica Annual Gala (association of Corporate Counsel). I used to consider myself an intellectual, but his address really provoked my thinking. He spoke of "communitarianism", which I thought he'd made up until I did some research this morning. It turns out, that Communitarianism is a philosophy developed by deep thinkers in the 1980's (after I'd left those Ivy covered walls of College life) to reconcile the liberal and conservative thinkers, to unify the nationalists, and to recognize that if we are to move forward globally, we must accept certain basic moral principles (such as children should not have to starve because fate brings them into a nation with limited food and dirty water), and that we share common responsibility (such as addressing global climate changes).

As always, this theoretical construct had major implications in the mediation movement from my perspective. Based in part upon the Asian concepts of harmony, it seeks a balance between extreme positions, for the benefit of all. It is not to say that the philosophy favors proselytizing or converting believers, but rather a gentle, general acceptance that not all conflict must be resolved for coexistence in a world of limited resources and basic, shared, humanitarian values.

My limited research into communitarianism fascinated me and I wanted to share it with you and encourage my community of readers to look into it as a guidepost for the next century.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Taking Our Part in Public Dialogue

I had the privilege of watching a screening of "The Soloist" at Sony Pictures in celebration of one of the co-Producers' birthday this weekend. (We've been friends of Russ Krasnoff's for over a decade.) The movie captures the story of a Los Angeles Times' reporter, Steve Lopez, friendship with a schizophrenic, homeless, but nevertheless brilliant musician, Nathaniel Ayers. At the end of the movie, the producers urge their viewers to get involved with homeless causes, public housing and the mentally ill. It's a call I've heard before personally, but had not really put together with mediation until this week.

I'm also reading Bernard Mayer's new book: "Staying with Conflict", which urges conflict professionals to think of their role as going beyond conflict resolution. After all, not all conflict can be resolved. Instead, he invites us to consider facilitating the dialogue that is central to competing values, including limited resources, to manage conflict without a view towards solving it, but living with it in our communities, and internationally. This was/is a bit revolutionary to me, as my practice revolves around litigated cases: all of the conflict which I presume to resolve will come to an end in court if I'm unable to resolve it before then.

Finally, I was inducted into the International Academy of Mediators last week. One of my fellow inductees (not an American) spoke eloquently of taking our stance among other international leaders in committing to engage in the dialogue on the global climate crisis.

More and more, I see our profession as a social science not unlike psychologists, historians, and yes, even filmmakers with a message. I congratulate Russ Krasnoff for having the courage to make this excellent film and deliver this crucial message. I will report on the Mayer book once I've completed it. In the meanwhile, I welcome your comments on the role that mediators can or must play in moving beyond living as "Soloist" towards a better, more sustainable and ultimately more fulfilling duet or even orchestra.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Thumbs Up at the G20

Yesterday I had a difficult mediation which I sensed was heading towards an impasse. I suggested, after 4 tough hours of negotiation, that one of the attorneys (a smart, attractive woman) take a walk outside with opposing counsel--who had remained staunchly committed to his position all day. I won't say it fully resolved the case, but it definitely served to break the impasse and get both parties returning to the negotiation with "thumbs up". So it was with great amusement that I read today's L.A. Times article, "Obama makes a point with 1 word" and was shocked to find that the photo on page 24 appears to have Obama's thumb up, but my google image above appears to be Berlusconi's thumb up!

This, of course, only strengthens my point in this entry: diplomacy comes from small measures of partnership, not grand gestures of dictatorship. In the G20 yesterday, apparently the world's leaders were "stuck" over whether to "recognize" a list of tax havens being published by the Organization of Eceonomic Co-operation and Development. Obama tapped Sarkozy on the shoulder, huddled in a corner, and suggested they "note" the list, without "recognizing" it. Sarkozy concurred, and later so did Hu, resulting in a simple agreement and handshake.

Obama said: "We exercise leadership best when we are listening, when we recognize that the world is a complicated place and that we are going to have to act in partnership with other countries, when we lead by example, when we show some element of humility and recognize that we may not always have the best answer, but we can always encourage the best answer and support the best answer."

In this case, as in my mediation, the best answer was a small gesture of partnership and a large dose of humility, leading to "two thumbs up".

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Town Hall: Messages from The President

Saint Patrick's Day brought us the Luck of the Irish as we won 2 lotteried tickets to see President Obama in his Town Hall here in Los Angeles this week. My husband and I stood in line downtown for over two hours on a sunny, warm Thursday morning for one of the thrills of our lifetime! What makes Obama so compelling? Here are my observations: He is great looking: an athlete's body, long, outstretched jaw and huge, expressive hands. He has perfect posture and commands the room (in this case a school gym) in as comfortable a way as any University Professor. He walks from side to side, giving thoughtful, earnest responses. He nods with the questions as if to show he understands each question perfectly. He listens as well as he speaks. He uses humor, even self-deprecating at times. He speaks like a preacher more than a politician. His words were more prose than policy, and his cadence from quiet to blaring, as he communicated his own emotionality on certain subjects. There was never a moment when I sensed some self-importance as we did with so many former Presidents. Although he came into the room with some taped music playing "Hail to the Chief", he left without any canned sermon about "G-d Bless America" or any conclusionary remarks. He took a final question from a 4th grader named Ethan Lopez and then exited the stage.

There is a lot to be learned from this new President and I only hope that his policy makers and advisors know what they are doing and what advice to give him as well as he communicates his own agenda and hopeful solutions. I was ready with a question about restoring America to its former preeminence: in the economy, education, health care, civil rights, the freedoms of association and yes, pursuits of happiness. He didn't call on me to ask: but having seen him, I heard his call to volunteer and commit to making the difference America so sorely needs.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Ethics of A New Generation of Business Leaders

I had the pleasure of spending the day with four young business students yesterday. I was struck by two articles I'd read in the Sunday New York Times, "Is it Time to Retrain B-Schools?" by Kelley Holland and "Can you Pass a C.E.O. Test?" by Greg Brenneman. Both addressed the competing effects of business acumen (as we used to define "success") and business ethics. I was intrigued to learn that at UCLA's Anderson School of Business, there is no requirement to take a Business Ethics class as a prerequisite to earning an M.B.A. Why not? There is no Code of Business Ethics, no "Professional Code of Conduct" and no licensure or certification to conduct business. Indeed, as Brenneman notes, many a C.E.O. is clueless on how to push the levers to raise earnings beyond filibustering over buzzwords that are nonsensical. The take-away lesson from Brenneman, who Chairs CCMP Capital, a turnaround expert, was this: "In any interaction, you either gain share or lose share. So treat every interaction as kind of a precious moment in time." Isn't that a good guideline for an ethical code of conduct?

My son reported that every business-related major at the undergraduate level at the University of Wisconsin is required to take an Ethics course. Why? My hope is that just as this generation of students learns to appreciate and value diversity, cultural sensitivity, environmental and global concerns, if they are also trained in ethical conduct, they will not succumb to the greed and sharp practices of our generation, and our business climate will be better for it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lessons on Mediation from Benjamin Franklin

Newsweek published a series of articles on Leadership and I particularly enjoyed Walter Isaacson's, "Benjamin Franklin and the Art of Humility" where he said, "But most important in those tumultuous years, Franklin was sage enough to bring passionate people together, to lead them by listening to them, and to unify them by displaying the humility, or at least the pretense of humility, that is so lacking during eras of hyperpartisanship but remains the essence of liberty and democracy."

I feel as though that is what I do daily in mediating litigated cases: I bring passionate people together, lead them by listening, unify them by displaying humility (in my case rarely a pretense as I always have far less knowledge of the dispute than they do!) and essentially allow them the liberty to resolve the dispute in whichever way is feasible in the service of living and working together in the same community going forward. The outcome is not limited by what the court or jury would do. It is not even limited to the ultimate "truth" or "justice", but merely, in this age of hyperpartisanship, is a free choice among the parties to settle their conflict in whichever way they choose. Brilliant? I think not. Sage? Well, if Benjamin Franklin thought so....

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Right Approach to Conflict

No matter what your politics, I imagine that you had to be inspired by today's inauguration. The piece that I heard from our new President that's resonating with me as mediator was this: "To our enemies: We will extend a hand, if you will unclench a fist." The idea of beginning a Presidential term (or any negotiation) with an outstretched hand, and by encouraging the opposing parties to do the same, struck me as rather brilliant. How difficult is it to begin a mediation with a handshake instead of a wagging finger, or a vigorous shake of the head? We're undoubtedly off to a great start and this is good advice that extends beyond grand diplomatic efforts to everyday litigated disputes. There is much to be learned from President Obama. A man of mixed heritage (Kenyan and Kansan) has instincts that allow him to adapt to inherent conflict and feel comfortable--through a simple outstretched hand, and an adaptable nature. Like a chameleon, his personal heritage allows him to glimpse varying perspectives and appeal to 88% of Americans! I, for one, have high hopes that the rhetoric will be an inspiration towards more handshakes, true diplomacy and more peaceful times ahead.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Journalism and Mediation

I have long been considering the skills of a highly trained journalist to mediation. Last evening, I saw the excellent film, "Frost/Nixon" and it crystallized the analogy for me. Like a journalist, the mediator must be deliberate and well prepared to ask the appropriate questions. A good mediator will also know when to follow up and dig further, and when to remain quiet and still and allow the underlying issues to surface. A good mediator will never gloat when the truth comes out, but rather calmly offer a hand and allow the perspective to be taken by the parties in conflict on their own following the emotional pitch point. A mediator, like a television interviewer, will know when to "lean in" to the conflict, and when the boxing match has turned the score against her, with the upper hand going to the disputants. And above all, a good mediator will know when to wear the Italian loafers to the hearing and when it's necessary to go with lace-ups. I highly recommend you to see the film.