Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Devil in Mediator's Clothing

I had a rough week. As a mediator, on occasion, instead of feeling like each side's ally, one or the other side chooses to demonize us. This week, it was a landlord and tenant dispute in which I questioned whether an attorney/tenant would be able to prove a renewal of his lease by virtue of an oral agreement, which did not include an assent as to the material terms, including rent and length of the lease extension. I also stuck my neck out and offered that I didn't believe that a jury would be sympathetic to a little girl who had been seeing a "life coach" for a year following an auto accident to help her transition into the first grade. Both lawyers raised their voices at me and treated me as the "She-Devil" incarnate! (I'm pleased to advise that one of these cases has since settled based upon the Devil's Mediation Proposal which followed).

It was so helpful for me to read the interview of Richard D. Fain, Chairman and C.E.O. of Royal Caribbean Cruises today in the New York Times business section for that reason. He talked about his mentor, Jay Pritzker (founder of Hyatt Hotels) who was often his No. 1 antagonist, arguing vociferously against whatever he was proposing. Pritzker, he said, questioned him in a "highly skeptical tone" and even called him crazy. His conclusion was "you learn more by arguing with someone than just agreeing with them I learn more about whether somebody really believes their point of view and has thought it through, and it also helps me clarify in my own mind the direction I'm going."

So the next time one of the attorneys is demonizing me for that kind of skeptical questioning and antagonism, I'll remind myself that I'm actually helping them to clarify whether they believe in their point of view, have thought it through and wish to follow the direction they've started down, or change the course as the result of these "tough questions".

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Empowering Women at the Helm

I write from Newport Beach for a weekend aboard "Time Out" where I spent the day yesterday at the Southern California Yachting Association's 22nd Annual Women's Sailing Convention. It was quite a learning experience. Over 150 women, ranging in age from their 20's to their late 70's gathered to teach one another, to empower one another, to encourage one another to take the helm and Captain their own ship. It was a rare opportunity to learn and observe from other women how to not only be competent crew, but to be the one relying upon our own judgment, giving orders to our own (all women) crew, and taking responsibility for our own mistakes. My morning instructor, who taught "docking" gave me some invaluable life advice: if you are going to take the helm, you must be willing to take responsibility for whatever damage you do. If you truly "own" the consequences of your errors, you will find the freedom to make your own mistakes. The lesson for mediation: it's not just about compromise, but sometimes about accepting the responsibility for your actions. In doing that, you may even find that you've been empowered to do great things and small (like reaching safe harbor and enjoying cocktails and the sunset). The other part of the lessons offered was about cruising--which is sailing off shore for extended periods of time. I was fascinated by the number of women who had taken off months or years to circumnavigate and leave the daily grind behind, in exchange for such basic efforts as navigating the wind, the waves and the weather. While it always seemed to me to be a sport reserved for the very wealthy and retired, it is in fact a lifestyle choice that young people and working people make as well. Some are single, some are married, some travel with children and some stop only to see the births of new grandchildren. And I'm brought back to the notion that we can take the helm as long as we are willing to accept the responsibilities of the consequences. Because I handle so many employment disputes, where the employees may not be returned to work until or unless the economy improves and they have been re-trained to return in a different capacity, this too felt empowering. The idea that one could live their life in adventure and beauty of the sea, was also exciting. In the end, it's a new perspective which I had not been realistically considering and which is now within my tool box as a challenge and opportunity. The lesson was not only how to get into the dock, but how to leave the dock behind and safely go with the currents even as they change moment to moment.