Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thinking Within the Box: Facilitated Dialogue without the need for Conflict

My parents, 82 years young, are beginning to recognize that they want the input of their adult children in managing their lives: business investments, tax and estate planning, cooking, driving, traveling. This morning we took advantage of the holiday week to all gather together for breakfast and a business-type meeting. Before going, I gave some thought to structuring the discussion in a mediation like way, but without the conflict. It was tricky: my brother and my husband clearly anticipated that I would unwittingly create or highlight conflict when there wasn't any. Instead, it worked this way: We began with my Dad, the patriarch, expressing some of his concerns and interests. I took notes and then invited the others sitting round the table to chime in. In the end, I set an agenda with 14 items (and we addressed only 7) ranging from "ground rules" including privacy from the next generation to a framework for regular commuication (Semi-annual meetings with our generations only--which my brother will "convene" via email in May and beginning of December). Because there were no real interpersonal disputes, it was more a useful tool for setting up a basis for future communications and accountability. (Who will check in to make sure they are eating well and are protected from financial predators, for example?) Mom promised never to drive to a family event in an evening without first checking with my nearby daughter. Dad promised that if they travel home at night they will arrange for someone to pick them up at the airport and not wait for a cab who may not be willing to drive them since they only live a short distance from the airport. My husband agreed to discuss some real estate issues with their accountant before they decide how best to characterize a taxable event that occurred in the past year and affects some family property. I submit that for my mediator friends, this was a useful way to engage our skills and expertise outside the world of conflict--but in a way that I am proud to say was highly appreciated by my brother and sister and their spouses and my terrific parents. It started as a difficult conversation, but once we put it in a familiar (to me) framework, it worked smoothly and paved the way for whatever more difficult conversations will inevitably follow.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Civility or Benevolent Dictatorship?

Today is my son, Zach's birthday. He is a man of many facets: a musician, a sharp business mind, a bon vivant, athletic, handsome, sweet, creative, tough, ambitious, and all around great guy. And so he brings me to consider my own multi-faceted business practices. I have been struggling this week with the objectives of both litigators and mediators in settling challenging commercial cases. On Monday, I lectured at a lawfirm on "Civility" and was struck by the ease with which litigators could rationalize less civil conduct than the State Bar's Civility Guidelines dictate could be ignored in the context of litigation. Then this morning's New York Times included an essay called "The Bipartisanship Racket" by Frank Rich Rich talked about the shortcomings of a new movement of "No Labels" and contrasts it with the much needed "leadership" virtues. At a holiday party last week for the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA) my own trainer, Therese White asked me whether I employed an "Evaluative" style in mediation. I had to think for a few minutes. And then, in another article in the New York Times this morning, there was a profile of Bruce Flatt, of Brookfield Asset Management, who is known for his excellent skills in negotiation and has been called a "Benevolent dictator". My synthesis of this is that the two strains: civility and "heavy metal" evaluative mediation can be effectively combined. With civility as the overarching framework (ie: true benevolence) a form of dictatorship, although anathema to true mediation, may be the only way that challenging litigated cases can be effectively resolved. If the parties or the lawyers knew how to settle their claims without a benevolent third party dictator, they wouldn't need a private mediation! Something to consider...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Power of Silence

Now that the Company has gone and we've delivered borrowed dogs and leftovers where they belonged, I note just how quiet my home is. I'll confess that I even abhor the constant Christmas music now that it's played on radio from Halloween to New Year's. So I find myself immersed in a welcome "hush" this Sunday after Thanksgiving.

This morning, while tuning into the Sunday morning news broadcasts, I heard one of the commentators talking about an aphorism in journalism about silence. He said the old adage goes: "Let the silence suck out the truth." What a powerful message for mediators! Silence can be among the best tools and yet least appreciated or employed in a mediation. It's been a hard lesson for me to learn: the art of sitting on my hands with my mouth shut and allowing the disputants to discuss and debate and ultimately collaborate on a way to settle their own disputes. Yet I find that in those moments when true emotion heats up and boils the silence in the room can, indeed "suck out the truth" in the key to a difficult resolution. Welcome quiet and the truth shall set you free!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is "Settling" a Dirty Word?

I pride myself on settling cases. Most of the time, somewhere near the beginning of the mediation hearing, I explain to the parties that what we're after is a "compromise", not a win. Most of the time, they're satisfied with the outcome: it ends the lawsuit and usually resembles what is legally "right" or at least justifiable financially. And yet, when you "google" the word "settlements" you get a lot of images of uninvited housing developments in lands whose ownership is still under dispute. Does "settlement" also mean something like "staking out your claim"? Or consider the "settling" that takes place in so many homes in Southern California. That one causes cracks in our ceilings and walls after earthquakes have caused our foundation to tremble over so many years. Is that a good thing? What about "debt settlement"? That one gives relief to the debtor, so probably is analogous to the kind of settling I do for parties before me. And consider "settling down" as in making peace with your current situation. It appears to be subject to one's interpretation in ways that make my job that much more challenging. Do I dare to urge the parties to "settle" their lawsuit or is it useful to consider other terminology in light of the various meanings attached to the word?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Week of Holding Conflict Together

I had an unusually full week and resolved 4 conflicts. By Friday night (I got home after 9 PM), I was exhausted and really need a weekend to re-charge my batteries. Two of the hearings were achingly similar: both women in their early 60's who were discharged after 20+ years of employment from their public entity careers after experiencing very typical orthopedic-type medical disabilities. After spending the days with these two dynamic older ladies, my own bones ached in empathy! It must be very hard to face retirement--no matter the nest egg you've got from your years of working at the same employment. Both were settled, at VERY different results, but both employer and employee were satisfied with the results. One of the cases this week was for 6 illegal aliens, all facing deportment proceedings, against a "notario". It presented a glimpse into the fascinating dynamics of the underground industry of folks who portend to help this community, without any power over the immigration authority of the U.S. government. It called into play the moral/political morass of whether some help and an ability to stay in the U.S. (illegally) for years was better than immediately going back to Mexico when their truth was revealed about how difficult it is to gain citizenship here. Then yesterday was a complicated purchase and sale of a business. Two friendly businessmen in the same industry made a bad mistake and entered into the loosest of transactions without consulting appraisers, business brokers or lawyers. Now 6 months later, they needed to re-do their deal by spelling out all of the terms they needed to negotiate when they were on friendlier terms. Thirteen hours later, they have a transaction I hope they can live with! Meanwhile, this mediator had an interesting, but exhausting week.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Wisdom of My Mentors

I attended the SCMA Fall Conference yesterday for my 9th year. I'll confess that I was less than enthusiastic because for the first time in the past 5 or 6 years, I was neither presenting nor chairing the conference. But my expectations were so far exceeded. From the beginning of the day, with a moment of memory of Richard Millen, to the awe inspiring work of my friends, Laurel Kaufer and Doug Noll at "Prisons of Peace", the day was devoted not merely to developing "The Business of Mediation" as the theme suggested, but to getting to the business of mediating in every way we are called upon to do. This year's honorees, Woody Mosten and Lee Jay Berman have both been mentors and icons for me in developing my own practice and they didn't disappoint in their keynote addresses yesterday. Woody provided the constant (but often much needed) reminder than our approach to marketing needs to rely upon our approach to mediation: listen to our clients and referral sources, inquire about their needs, bring peace (not sales) into every conversation at every opportunity. Woody has privately counseled me on many occasions in this new venture: model the behavior that people want in a mediator and they will hire you if you are trustworthy, demonstrate genuine integrity and can bring peace into every room you enter.
Lee Jay did a dynamite presentation on "Closing" the Deal. Lee Jay is, I have found, a chameleon in that he presents himself as just so put together he could be called "slick", and yet is so very thoughtful, deep-thinking, insightful, that it's a consistently welcome surprise. He taught me a few new great tools for closing, and what's more, demonstrated his humanity, his humility and all of the reasons why so many in our community look up to him as mentor, teacher, friend.

I also learned a great deal of things to consider, as solid, reliable business habits, from my friends and colleagues, Ralph Williams, Nikki Tolt and Len Levy. They are those special people in my professional life who have taken me in as a fledgling "newbie" and given me the guideposts and reassurance that if I work at this, and want to succeed, and stay the course, I will become that successful mediator who can make this my life's work.

I am so grateful for those who have given me so much advice over these years. And so proud to reflect that I have followed their advice and am still a part of this mediation community after 9 years. With both enthusiasm and gratitude!

Kudos to SCMA, Phyllis Pollack President, Kendall Reed, Chair and to my friends, Laurel Kaufer, Ralph Williams, Nikki Tolt and Len Levy and my mentors, Woody Mosten and Lee Jay Berman for an inspirational conference. It will not soon be forgotten!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Unsung Mediators of Nashville

I just returned from Nashville, Tennessee for the International Academy of Mediator's Conference. What a fabulous experience! We heard music everywhere with the most compelling, engaging lyrics anywhere. We saw amazing artwork in the botanical gardens by the Glass Artist, Chihuly and an Impressionist Exhibit at The Frist Museum. And we heard original music performed at The Bluebird Cafe, the Honky Tonks and by Alex Harvey, writer of "Delta Dawn" and Sammi Moore (beautiful young artist with a soul that belies her tender years). We heard from W. J. Michael Cody, the Attorney hired to represent Martin Luther King in Memphis the day before his assassination and heard his famous "I have a Dream" speech about growing up White and Southern and the beginnings of the civil rights movement there. He introduced us to one of our own members, George Brown, who was the First African-American in history to be appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court and who partnered with Cody to bring pro bono legal services to the African-American community in Memphis as a young lawyer. From beginning to end, this was a conference, an experience, a memory to last a lifetime and I am so grateful and humbled to have participated.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wedding Planning: The Ultimate Exercise in Mediation

After a 14 month engagement, our little girl got married last weekend to a wonderful young man. During that time, we both came to learn about ourselves and one another in ways that no other exercise in parenting has served to do. For instance, I learned that I am a natural-born skeptic. I need to interview several vendors before I decide that even the first one was the best. She, on the other hand, is self-reliant and determined. If she liked the photographer, she didn't need to interview any others. I second guessed every detail--wanting to make sure it was the best, most attractive, best deal. She knew the look she wanted for the wedding and went for it. About the only thing we didn't disagree about was the groom: he is great and both of us knew it. So I wanted to share a bit of triumph. It all went perfectly. And a survival story of overcoming an unnecessary, but long term underlying conflict in undertaking planning of a perfect day, together with my now adult daughter. After that, my "work" seems like, excuse the pun, a "cake walk".

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Being a California Lawyer

I was invited to present at this year's Annual California State Bar Conference on the topic of "Winning your Case without going to Trial" with my colleague, Hon. Joe Hilberman. We had a great audience who were respectful, engaged and even, I dare say, introspective about the direction of access to justice and their own markers for professional success. The conference took place in sunny, beautiful Monterey, California and was, in almost every way, a breath of fresh air. I hadn't appreciated that I am so routinely surrounded by lawyers zealously advocating their client's positions, embroiled in conflict, adversarial that I had nearly forgotten how congenial, friendly, even intellectually engaged a group of lawyers can be when there are no client's around! The attendees were enormously diverse in age, geographic origin and perhaps even worldview (although not very diverse ethnically). Yet they came with a common purpose which probably began with securing their continuing education credit but ended with their broadening their education in areas of ethics, the psychology of bias, techniques and future-thinking in new areas of the law. In the end, new friendships and old were forged and we experienced that although advocates in the courtroom, we share more in common than differences. Great conference.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Steering from the Back of the Boat

Today's New York Times Business Section had an interesting interview of Anne Berkowitch, co-founder and Chief Executive of "SelectMinds", a social networking company in Manhattan. She talked about the keys to effective leadership and listed the most important as "being able to listen to people." She analogized to "steering from the back of the boat" as opposed to being the military general in front of the troops and the first one rushing into battle. As many of my readers know, my husband and I are avid sailors, so the metaphor really struck me as to the reason mediation can be so effective. The mediator is trained to do exactly as Berkowitch advocates. We bring together a group of people, get the best of them and get them wanting to work as a unit toward some goal post (settlement/resolution of their conflict). We listen to them, trying to understand what really motivates them (or is driving the conflict) and then get them to push themselves beyond their comfort zones. As I go off to relax on the boat this holiday weekend, I will be so happy to carry the metaphor into my week as the key to successful settlements of dispute. I wish you fair winds and smooth sailing!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Precious Life: Just Hold On

Since my last post, I have attended two funerals and a memorial service. The first was a 19 year old relative. His family had no indication that he was desperately, emotionally distraught until it was too late. There was absolutely no signs at the memorial that the family of this young man was anything other than "solid". And yet, they were tragically unable to hold onto their eldest son in his time of trouble.
Last week, I attended a funeral of a 94 year old man. He was, by all accounts, loved. His gift to his family? His love. A long life, well lived. And then this weekend, when I arrived at Temple for regular Shabbat services, the community of the Jewish rehab center in my town was reeling over the death of a 23 year old resident. Everybody was doing the right thing in his case: his parents had gotten him into rehab and his counselors and Rabbi were working hard towards saving his soul. And yet...
The Rehab has a saying, "Just Hold On", but I would submit that it's not enough. We are not alone, and each of us has a responsibility to "hold on" to one another, too. I had a challenging mediation last week when I was asked to mediate a Conservatorship of an elderly lady, whose two living children could not agree upon the appropriate care for her and could not bear to be in the same room together--leading to an awkward visitation schedule. As a consequence, neither son was "holding on" and both feared she would die alone.
I'm not sure, once again, that I've got the answers here, but I do hope that my readers will reach out and "hold on" to somebody, knowing that it is not enough to "Just Hold On". Perhaps this mantra could open the path towards all kinds of peaceful resolutions. Three deaths in a month can certainly put things into perspective.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Being Present in the Moment

Mediators talk about "being present" as an effective tool towards helping people we hardly know resolve very personal conflicts. It is a term borrowed from spiritual practices where meditators (not all mediators) tune into themselves in order to be more available and accessible to the rest of the world. So it was with some amusement that I found myself forced to be fully present during the last two weeks on my vacation. For the first time, I traveled overseas without a book or even a pad and pen and project. On the first day of the cruise, a fellow passenger knocked down my Kindle, causing the screen to become unreadable. All of my planned reading went dark. I chose not to bring a computer or to register for the Internet on the ship. So I was forced, to my delight, to really tune in to my family. The first week was an Aegean Sea cruise with 28 family members celebrating my parent's 65th wedding anniversary. We had both deep and light conversations and we played games. We sang and danced and dined and hiked and laughed and experienced so much together. It really made me aware of how distracting our modern technology has become--and how the key to being "fully present" may be the simple, but oh, so difficult act, of giving up the gadgets and tuning in to one another with intentionality. The second week was a visit with my sister and her family in Bern, Switzerland and then three heavenly days in Paris. We had all been to both locations before, so we had no absolute agenda. We were spontaneous and carefree. In all ways, we were practicing "being in the moment"--which is really a great chance to renew and refresh in order to lean in to every mediation with the same intentionality. Fully present. No distractions. Time to think and listen more than speak. Now that's a vacation!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Hazards of A Life as Mediator

This is my tenth year as a mediator. I mediate all kinds of tough business negotiations and painful litigated cases. I spend my days with people in conflict. There, I summon my humbler self to strive towards empathy, creativity and compromise. So it was rough this week when my youngest son (a College Senior) got hit by a man who appeared to be plenty affluent and at least my age in a parking lot. Instead of exiting the vehicle and apologizing, or inquiring if we were okay, the man refused to provide his insurance information and asked us to handle it directly through him. He argued with me about what damage may have been caused and pleaded with me to minimize the claim, since he was having a bad time. After the initial estimate was communicated to him, he again got me involved, explaining that he's grieving the death of his mother, a religious man who couldn't speak too near the Sabbath, and ultimately that his business in real estate was abysmal. My natural inclination was to empathize, encourage my son to go for a second estimate and then accept whatever he offered. Ultimately, today, after a week of negotiation, my son made the claim through our insurance, and they will make the effort to collect from the other driver. I couldn't get past this man's sad story to get to the "rights" which my young son was able to articulate. And's clear to all of us that had the man accepted responsibility at the outset, we would likely have accepted his real interest, which was to avoid going through insurance. So beware the mediator! Sometimes our hyper-empathetic habits cloud the ability to exert our rights. Good thing I'm off on vacation for a couple of weeks. I'll be taking a cruise in celebration of my parent's 65th anniversary with 20 family members. Now that will undoubtedly bring opportunities for mediation! No vacation when you're a mediator. Just unpaid leave...

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Unless we're raised in an oppressive or abusive family or society, we generally grow up with a certain confident sense of trust. Some of us are better able to preserve the optimism than others. But it is this sense of trust which, in my view, allows a third party neutral to help settle disputes in matters that cannot be settled directly between the two parties. Indeed, in most cases that need a mediator it is precisely because the trust between the two disputants has broken down (or never developed). But without that trust (in somebody--either the adversary or the neutral), the dispute is so much harder to resolve!

A few examples: last week I mediated a business dispute in which the defense lawyer did not trust me (as the mediator) with his trial strategies, his evidence or the basis for his evaluation of the case. I figured this out early, when he negotiated my contract, because he didn't trust that I would not bill him for time beyond that for which I had been retained. Later, he sent sensitive documents to me via email, but wouldn't send them to my assistant, fearing that he would not maintain their confidentiality. The result was that I was as powerless as he and his client to settle that dispute. I spent the better part of 5 hours trying to gain that trust. It was evident to me that the lawyer or his client or both had been burned in previous mediations--and were not about to make themselves vulnerable in ways that needed to happen if the other side was to make major compromises in their position.

But it wasn't until today when I read the New York Times and Washington Post's story of the Israeli attack of the ship heading for Gaza that I understood why. We are now bombarded with so much dis-information, that we've all become a bit wary of trusting the sources we believed in as children. We are all left to "do the research" and make up our own minds what is truth and what is slanted by public opinion. We are all biased by the "side" we've taken in the past--striving to make it consistent with current conduct--rather than accepting that it may be a discordance or bad behavior. One account makes it clear that the Israeli's were set up by Hamas terrorists to act badly and look bad to the worldwide press. The other account (an essay by Michael Chabon in the NY Times, suggests that the Jews aren't, as we as children are told, smarter or more ethical than the rest of the world's population. Essentially, Chabon suggests that the particular Israeli's who performed this particular mission were acting on impulse without regard to higher ethics or intelligence.

Finally, on the personal side, I have been informally mediating a family matter between two close relatives. The trust one placed in the other has been called into question--and two men have had to question a lifetime of innocent trust in one another--about the loyalty of family and friendship as against opportunity and money lost and money gained.

Forgive my rambling, but I have to conclude that the common denominator is trust. Is it smart or expedient to begin with trust or should we all distrust until trust is earned? And can we conduct inter-personal relations, international relations or business relations this way? Is it good for us or bad? In my narrow world of mediation, I would at least posit that if you choose a mediator, you should lead with trusting her to maintain your confidences and work hard to help both sides gain the perspective needed to resolve the conflict between them...which, in my humble view, is always in everyone's best interest. Without some innocent trust, we may all fall down. But children are made of rubber and will bounce back. All of this distrust as adults could have much more dire consequences.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Tribute to the Penultimate Mediator: My Mom

My mom is the ultimate optimist. She loves life no matter what it brings. She has always worked hard to make each of her three children, and each of our spouses, feel that they are her favorite and that our own three children are superstars. Each of her 9 grandchildren and each of her 5 great grandchildren adore her for her special attentiveness to them. She travels hours to see their hockey matches, and ballet recitals and babysits two four year old little girls most every week!...and don't even ask about my Dad! She has spent 65 years adoring him and making him feel King of their castle. Never mind that currently they are cruising the Arabian Sea, where she's engaged in bridge lessons while my Dad (now 83) is on deck watching for pirates (alongside the armed guards on the Fly Bridge who are legitimately hired for this purpose these unfortunate days).

So on this Mother's Day, I want to say "thanks" to my loving, wonderful, joyful mom. The lessons of optimism, re-framing every situation to find the good and positive, the attentiveness to each person's perspective, the perseverance in keeping a family as diverse as ours (in most every way) together, year after year, week after week, the balance, and re-balance of perspectives and needs, the open ears and eager open arms, the broad shoulders, the empathic listening, the quiet reassurance (even when it's hard to believe) that "everything's gonna be alright", the light sense of humor and sage advice (as in "you should invest in Kleenex, you're going to be buying a lot of them" when our daughter became critically ill many years ago), all go into the package that is my mom.

Happy Mother's Day: and Thanks for all of these valuable lessons. Hopefully, they have made me not only a better mediator, but a better mom as well.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Condoleeza Rice and Renewed Faith in the Future of America

Last night I attended the Southern California Chapter's Association of Corporate Counsel Association's Annual Event. I'll be honest, I did not expect to be "wowed" by the keynote speaker, Condoleeza Rice after hearing Bill Clinton speak at last year's event. But wowed I was. Rice is articulate, insightful, charming, honest and, in ways I never appreciated as she worked under President Bush, a brilliant thinker. She restored my faith in America, which my readers know was a bit shaken after last week's visit to Alberta. She reminded us that America was founded upon the "myth of the log cabin" and that she was proof that "it doesn't matter where you come from, it matters where you're going". She gave a few good lessons in leadership, my favorite of which was: "I'd rather be naive than cynical, because cynical people can't lead." She reminded us that this country was built by and enhanced by holding promise that the best and the brightest from all over the world could rise to their full potential here. She sees the wisdom and value in education for our children that includes a central place for the arts and despairs that the new global economic leader, if the historic American capitalism loses it's edge, will be replaced by the worst of America if we don't begin to address critical issues including immigration (which she seems to support in accord with the old plan developed by McCain and Kennedy under Bush), education and poverty. She set the audience on edge with respect to the threat by nations that are politically unstable, such as Iran and now Mexico, where the titular authority is unable to control a militant minority and where the government itself is subject to mis-dealings in ways that enhance rather than protect against the instability. As a former student of International Relations, I found her talk fascinating. I haven't yet found the thread which binds this to the work of a mediator--but I'm pretty sure it's there--perhaps sewn into the lining or between those logs, holding us all together.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reflections from the Alberta Arbitration and Mediation Society

I was honored to be invited to present two talks at the Alberta Arbitration and Mediation Society's Annual Conference in Edmonton last week. The President, Pat Withers, had heard about my presentation at the ABA Dispute Resolution Section's Conference in 2009 on Ethics and Mediation and was excited to have me do a reprise. In fact, since the time of the initial invitation, I had given the updated version of the talk at this year's ABA Dispute Resolution Section in San Francisco just two weeks before. It was met by a lively, engaged, largely American audience who had much to say about their own ethical dilemmas dealing with American lawyers and their clients in cases ranging from personal injury (that was sometimes exaggerated) to workplace discrimination (that was sometimes dependent upon nuanced evidence that was hard to secure). So it was with somewhat troubling to me to find that the audience of about 50 Albertan mediators could simply not relate to the stories I told of deceitfulness, exaggeration and secrets which lawyers and their clients reveal to mediators on occasion, and we are duty-bound to maintain those as confidential. In short, many members of the audience confided in me afterwards, "this would simply not happen" in Canada. Some of it is institutionalized. For example, there is no such thing, apparently, as civil fraud. Fraud is criminalized and would give rise to terminating the mediation and reporting to a Judge in the event of such behavior. One can imagine, then, how the threat of criminal prosecution may deter the employment of such "tactics" which are so commonly seen in civil disputes in the U.S. Second, citizens have access to good health care at no cost, so there is no incentive to sue a third party (and in fact in cases of "minor injuries" a law against it) in order to afford costly and necessary medical care following an accident. On and on, the examples I gave of ethical dilemmas, some personally experienced and many arising out of published California cases that have tested the duties of confidentiality as against the professional ethics of attorneys appearing in mediations of civil disputes, were, simply stated, unfathomable to my Canadian audience.

As usual, I learned more from my "students" than what I taught. But it particularly heightened my own consciousness about the cultural differences between American attorneys and mediators and our very nearby neighbors. The second workshop I presented was on Breaking Impasse. It dealt with sophisticated models or tools that mediators in the U.S. commonly use to get high stakes cases resolved (including brackets, decision tree analysis and risk analysis as well as mediator's proposals). Once again, these were very "foreign" concepts to the Alberta mediators who were unaccustomed to negotiating over money without committing to a robust opportunity for the parties to collaborate, and resolve through interest-based negotiations with the monetary issues then falling into place without mediator intervention. It's a purist model of mediation in which I was also trained, but admitting to this audience that I rarely use it without the necessity to also get into "the money" through shuttle diplomacy made me feel "unpure".

So it is that this photo--depicting the reflection of Canadian Rockies in the pure, clear Lakes, made me think hard about the value of self reflection, the open vistas just beyond our borders and the American way. More questions than answers, but what a fascinating experience for me and a deep and sincere appreciation to my Albertan friends and colleagues for giving me a chance to do this self-reflection and for listening with open ears and arms to the ethical issues we face here as though they are universal.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Indecision-Making: Science Helps Explain the Basis for Voluntary Consent

There's an interesting Book Review in this morning's New York Times on "The Art of Choosing" by Sherrna Iyengar. The study is based upon a famous "jam experiment" where shoppers were offered either six different jams to sample or thirty. Surprisingly, although more shoppers stopped by the table with more samples, ten times more sales were made at the table with the limited choices! The new study takes it a step further to look at the role of culture and religion in choice. Her findings reveal that Anglo college students respond most favorably when they have maximal choice, whereas Asian children performed better in response to a cue that they were instructed to do a particular task by their mothers! Significantly (for mediators, I thought), both groups resisted commands that were made by a stranger, third party. Ms. Iyengar's findings also demonstrated that members of more fundamentalist faiths demonstrated more optimism than those without strict belief systems in a higher power. She discounts this finding by reminding readers that the study was conducted in the U.S., where members of a particular faith remain in that system by choice. A provocative study which informs some difficult mediations for me. Too many choices can lead to obstacles instead of opportunities. And finding those options which the parties themselves offer can be much more effective than the mediator's proposal. Liberating and informative!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Jazz, Synchronicity and Mediation

I attended an outstanding ABA Dispute Resolution Conference in San Francisco last week. There, I heard and saw a wonderful demonstration of a concept called "Synchronicity" by Margaret Aaron and Dwight Golann during a presentation they called "Clientology". They talked about concepts we mediators call "mirroring and modelling" to meet the clients where they are and gently guide them to a place where reasoned decisions can be made about emotional conflict. They talked about delivering bad news with appropriate gravitas, and using the level and tone in our voices, our hands and even our bodies' posture for more than speech.

Today, I enjoyed a terrific jazz concert featuring a high school friend of my son's, Shana Bush, and a trio of musicians (some still in College) performing updated versions of tunes from the 1920's to 1940's. It struck me that the synchronicity I learned is a metaphor for improvisational jazz. The musicians play off one another, hit highs and lows, have a conversation amongst them which, if you're lucky, also touches the audience deeply, movingly, personally. It has the potential of uplifting or evoking the lonely, dark places we try to guard against.

So it is that in my next mediation, I shall take with me the melodies of Shana's jazz with the lessons of clientology. And perhaps with "Angel Eyes" I will accomplish more for my clients than the lyric goes: "All or Nothing at All".

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Insightful Closings

Los Angeles lost a great friend and "Granddaddy of Mediation", Richard Millen, last week. I had the good privilege of knowing Richard well, as he had a seat on the Board of the Southern California Mediation Association "in perpetuity" during my term as President there and we sat together on the State Bar's ADR Committee. If I could capture his philosophy in a very few words, he was a defender of the process of mediation as an essentially human prospect. He was, although a lawyer himself, quite opposed to the legalistic (or commercial) approach to human conflict. So it was with great interest that I attended the International Academy of Mediator's Conference in Salt Lake City where four highly regarded commercial mediator's from London, England to Cleveland, Ohio to Northern and Southern California, revealed their most "insightful closings". All of them involved human conflict which took self-confident and highly competent lawyers taking a step back to allow their clients to truly express themselves in the heartbreak they'd suffered in order to resolve both the emotional and the financial issues that stood between them. I'll give Richard Millen's legacy the credit for shining a light on the "mediation" of the two strains of conflict within our own community: it's okay to "Show me the Money" if you can also meet the human needs by addressing the emotional factors in mediation. Thanks, Richard, and rest in peace. Your legacy will live on.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Awesome Power of a Sincere Apology

Tiger Woods played his hardest match today when he made a public apology to his fans, business partners and supporters. It was humble. It was sincere. And it was personal. The timing was his own, based not upon a public outcry or demand, but based upon his own personal journey towards accepting responsibility for his bad behavior. It worked for me. I'm not sure that it changes his past, but I am sure that a sincere apology has the potential to change future relationships for the better. It doesn't happen routinely in mediation. When there is a sincere and humble explanation for bad conduct, and a request for forgiveness, coupled with a pledge to change or correct it, it can simply diffuse a conflict in ways that no money can buy. People, even heroes and celebrities, sometimes fail and disappoint. A decent apology can go an enormous distance towards relieving the sting of disappointment that bad behavior creates. It's a powerful lesson for mediators and those who represent people in conflict.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lessons for Mediators from Corporate Leadership

I was always a bossy little girl. So it was with great interest that I read an interview in this morning's New York Times of Susan Doeherty, who leads the United States Sales, service and marketing of General Motors. Her natural demeanor was instructive for me as a mediator in these ways. First, she recognized that communication is essential. "It needs to be simple. It needs to be consistent. And even when you're tired of what the message is, you need to do it again and again, because everybody comes to the table with a different perspective and a different experience"..."On some very key things, people need to internalize it, and they need to own it." Second, she says, "The best way to counteract coming across as being bossy would be to ask others what they thought." Third, she sits in a different chair at each meeting, to keep her meetings "dynamic". If it's good enough for GM, it's good enough for me. These are, in fact, essential lessons for mediation. And by the way, does anyone remember a male CEO being criticized for being "bossy"?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

New Employment Case Limits Right to Recover Attorneys Fees

We might have known it was coming since I reported about being subpoenaed to testify that attorneys fees were unwarranted in a Federal employment case because the employer would have settled for the same amount as the ultimate verdict in a mediation that took place six months before trial...but now the California Supreme Court has decided that an employee may not be entitled to recover attorneys fees in a meritorious employment case where the amount in controversy (or the ultimate verdict) is too small to have warranted the fees incurred. The decision -- Chavez v. City of Los Angeles -- tilts the balance between employee and employer interests in employment cases a little towards the employer by allowing trial courts to deny attorney fee recoveries to plaintiffs who only recover a small amount.

In Chavez, the Plaintiff was awarded $11,500 for FEHA violations, but the Attorneys submitted a fee bill of $840,000. Prior to this decision, the Court didn't have the discretion to deny attorneys fees, although they could be taxed pursuant to motion. Now, if the Court thinks they're out of balance with the value of the case, it can deny the fees. Game changer!

I have often seen the threat of huge legal fees tip the evaluation towards settling a case that otherwise has relatively low damages in employment actions. Although the cases are not frivolous, they may have limited value without the additional threat of legal fees.

Plaintiff's attorneys will likely be scrutinizing the intake on these cases more thoroughly where the damages are low. Employees who have been wrongly terminated may have less access to quality attorneys to take their cases where damages are small. Indeed, I'm going to assume that more of these cases will be settled earlier and through mediation than assuming the risk and expense of trial in light of this decision.

Interesting development in light of the economic recession in our generally pro-employee liberal State.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The New Year: A Chance to Re-set

I love New Years. Like so many of life's phenomena, I see it as a metaphor for the mediation process. It's a chance to change our paths, review and re-do bad decisions, look towards the future. It's a chance to take stock of what worked and didn't, and to make up our minds to make things better in the future. One of my favorite messages of the New Year came from my friend and colleague, Deborah Rothman, who advocated for abandoning "The Bucket List" (of dreams yet unfulfilled) for "The F**k It List" (giving up those hopes that are never to be realized). It's a gentle surrender, and yet one that is so liberating!
To that end, there was an interesting article this morning in the New York Times by Barbara Strauch about Adult Learning, called "How to Train the Aging Brain". There is good news: "The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help it's owner recognize patterns, and as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can." So there's my chance to "reset": a good consolation for another year of age: I begin to see the "big picture" faster--and even can glean a solution to the biggest challenges that lie ahead. Now if I could just figure out the technical re-set mechanism...