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!