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!