Monday, July 28, 2008

Beyond the Knights of Ni!

I watched the classic Monty Python film, Search for the Holy Grail, this week-end, and the Knights of Ni reminded me of what we often hear in mediation. Not the word “Ni,” but the word “no.” This small in size and sometimes large in stature word appears in many different forms including – “I can’t do that.” Or “What are they thinking – are they crazy?” Or “never in a million years” and sometimes as just plain “no.”

As mediator, what to do when faced with No? Do you conclude the mediation at its utterance or do you welcome it as an invitation? Or perhaps that we are finally getting to the heart of the matter. For me, when folks say “no” it means that, I as mediator, must really get to work to help keep the process and discussion moving so that participants will stay engaged and be able to move from No to Yes if they so choose. It certainly does not occur as a clear, crisp switch; rather, the mediation process can allow participants to shift their thinking, to reconsider their positions and interests and to make decisions that they did not anticipate prior to the mediation process or even during earlier parts of the session.

I also have a personal mediator “rule” that the word “No” does not mean “No” until someone has said it three times. This doesn’t mean that I pester people or brush off their “No” - rather, it means I continue to explore with participants how they can meet their needs and interests and in so doing, move beyond no. Part of the genesis of this rule is that people who negotiate in mediation sometimes use “no” as a negotiating tool. They don’t really mean it. Also, as noted above, I believe that when people say “no,” it can mean that you are getting close to what they really want. So, in either case, I keep on working as mediator until it is crystal clear to everyone that we need to stop our work for the day.

Note that I am not imposing my decision about what “No” does or does not mean; rather, I just keep working the mediation process. These are times to listen hard, pay close attention to the feelings in the room and watch everyone like a hawk. All this information can help you as mediator help the folks trying to make choices about their dispute.

So, the next time someone says “no” in mediation, think of the Knights of Ni. And for those who do not recall – remember that the Python Knights went past by first bringing a shrubbery and then with the word “it!”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

One Minute Mediator !

Many of you may be familiar with a book on management, "The One Minute Manager" by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson (first published in 1982) which follows the quick saga of "a bright young man who was looking for an effective manager." Through his efforts he meets the "One Minute Manager" and various co-workers who extoll the virtues of the "old man" and explain the concept of being a One Minute Manager. I just got hold of it recently and it's a great read with some very focused insight that matches our work as mediators.

One aspect that hit home for me was the One Minute Manger's statement about whether his management style was "results-oriented" or "people oriented." He said "How on earth can I get results if it's not through people? I care about people and results. They go hand in hand." Thus, the One Minute Manager is a "both / and" kind of guy. It's not either / or, it's both. This should be true for your work as a mediator.

You need to work both your "soft" people and (it shouldn't be "or") your "hard" negotiating skills when you work as a mediator. This helps mediation participants fully engage in the process and evaluate their choices about how to proceed. So, the next time you are in the middle of a tough negotiation, take a look around the room - how are folks doing? Is there something you can do to help the negotiation discussion move forward by paying attention to the people?

As mediators, we, like the One Minute Manager, should care about people and process results.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hercules the Mediator

Do you know the myth of Hercules and the Nemian Lion? I heard it the other day (listening to a story CD in the car with my family) and it’s a story that speaks to our work as mediators.

Here’s the story: Hercules is tasked to slay the Nemain Lion whose hide cannot be cut. So, Hercules wrestles the lion and squeezes it to death. With the lion dead, Hercules tries to cut the hide, but cannot. So, and here’s the mediator part, he uses the claws of the lion to cut the hide.

The lesson for Hercules and for us as mediators is that the ability to achieve a result will come from the participants at mediation (for Hercules, from the lion). Thus, it is our job to help facilitate the finding of that which will lead to settlement and/or resolution. Can we help uncover some underlying strength in participants that will empower them to make a settlement decision? And, how do we do so?

One key aspect is to learn about the people at mediation. They are not just plaintiff or defendant or insurance professional. They are people and if you learn more about them, what makes them tick, this will lead to what you need to do to help them cut through the hide and decide.

Go Hercules !

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Celebrate Your Mediator Independence !

July 4th is just at the end of the week. It is a celebration of independence. And when I think of “independence” in the mediation context, I think of being neutral on the content, being impartial, and not being biased in word or action. I think of self determination. It is our independence as mediators’ and our adherence to self determination that allows us to do our work as conflict resolution professionals. These are the foundational blocks of our work, just like the revolutionaries that went before us in 1776.

So, how do you stay independent as a mediator? First, you must embrace the notion that you are an advocate for the process, but not an advocate for a particular outcome. You focus your process choices on participant self determination. You might want folks to reach a settlement of their dispute (of course you do !) yet they may not. While you must help them consider all potential choices, if you push for a particular outcome, you may begin to lose your neutrality. You become partial. You show your bias. When you do so, you are no longer holding the center of the conflict; rather you are supporting one “side” over the other. If you do so, you will lose your effectiveness as a mediator because people will not follow your process lead it they perceive that you are supporting the other "side."

The key, I suggest, is to support all choices, all “sides,” and all participants at mediation. You do this by being a staunch advocate for the mediation process. You do so by listening carefully and guiding a process that stays aligned with self determination. You stay independent even as you empathize and connect with participants at mediation. This is the power and glory of the process. Enjoy as you celebrate on July 4th !