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.