Archive for May, 2009

Diagnosing Escalation

May 13, 2009

As a conflict resolver, be it as a mediator, peacemaker, negotiation or facilitator, posessing the ability to diagnose a situation which has been escalated is important if you are to attempt to de-escalate and hopefully resolve it.

There are many different methods to identify the transformation that has taken place in order to properly explain how escalation has taken place. Rubin, Pruitt and Kim* list 5 types of transformation in social conflicts that can assist you in this process. The five are:

Light -> Heavy
The exchange starts off ‘light’ by trying to influence the other party with such tactics of verbal protest, making the other feel guilty and persuasion attempts. It becomes‘Heavy’ when physical threats and even actual physical violence become present. (A little obvious I might add)

Small -> Large
This refers to situations which started off with minimal resources being used to many being depleted. Resources can include personnel, money, and time.

Specific -> General
In this type of transformation, the situation is escalating from one or a few issues to what can be considered the relationship itself.

Doing well-> Winning -> Hurting Others
Initially, many times one party just wants things to work out in their favor. When a situation escalates, it changes from just doing well to now a competitive nature and wanting to not only win, but also to see the other side lose. The last stage of this transformation manifests when the party is possibly feeling hurt or incurring costs and wants to see the other party’s hurt and costs exceed theirs. Winning is no longer enough, and as the passage on page 21 says, it is “competition in the extreme”.

Few -> Many
What began as just one versus one or a few against a few snowballs into many on each side. When a party feels the situation is turning against them, many people tend to search for others on the outside to join with them.

As a mediator, diagnosing the cause of the escalation is important as it will help you understand the ‘big picture’ of the situation that brought the parties to you. You can also say this allows you to see the interests behind the positions. Rubin, Pruitt and Kim add a list of conditions that encourages conflict.

The list includes:
* Periods of rapidly expanding achievement
* Ambiguity about relative power
* Invidious comparison
* Status inconsistency
* Weakening normative consensus
* Zero-sum thinking
* Communication among group members
* The availability of leadership
Learn more about them from the book [here]

As conflict resolvers, knowing this list helps as after identifying the condition(s), we can help the parties see what has not worked in the past (the conditions listed) and brainstorm ideas on how to possibly do things differently in the future. Note, as a mediator, you do not have to ‘call out’ the condition to the parties. Simply knowing them can help you then help the parties.

An example is Zero-sum Thinking. This win-lose thinking of the me-versus-you mentality results in at least one party not being happy and relationships being strained, potentially beyond the point of repair. Assisting parties to consider options not including this zero-sum mentality (expanding the pie) not only promotes an atmosphere of collaboration and empathy, but also the possibility of a win-win resolution.

If you are interested in learning more about this, I suggest you click the link listed above or see below for the full information.

* J. Rubin, D. Pruitt, and S.H. Kim, Social Conflict (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994)

CPR Creates YADR

May 11, 2009

The International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution recently released a press statement notifying the ADR community of the newly created YADR- Young Attorneys in Alternative Dispute Resolution.

From the site:
What is YADR?
CPR is pleased to announce the launch of its “YADR” Group – Young Attorneys in Alternative Dispute Resolution. The purpose of the group is to expose young attorneys to in-house counsel in the international ADR practice area.

Through periodic seminars and networking events, participants will gain an insider’s look at the role of ADR systems and practices in corporations and multi-national organizations. They will have an opportunity to meet and collaborate with in-house counsel and experts in the ADR field to analyze and hone techniques, processes, and systems to improve commercial conflict resolution efforts around the globe. >> Read Press Release

Kudos to CPR for creating this. Hopefully they will get a strong showing for their first event set for June 2nd in New York City.

The information is as follows:
Click [here] for the PDF invitation file

Inaugural Networking Event

Tips from the Trenches in a Tough Economy:
Insights from In-House Counsel About Today’s Priorities and What It Means for Young Attorneys Going Forward

Corporate Panelists:
Michelle H. Browdy, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, IBM Corporation
Melanie Lewis, Director, Solutions, Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc.
Duncan MacKay, Deputy General Counsel, Northeast Utilities
Beth Trent, Legal Director, Schering-Plough Corporation (Invited)

Dana MacGrath, Senior Counsel, Allen & Overy and Chair of YADR Group

Event Details:
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Panel Discussion with Networking Cocktail Reception to follow

Allen & Overy LLP
1221 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY

Cost: FREE of charge

Please RSVP by May 20 to Julie DeSarbo at or at 646.753.8231

News For 5.11.09

May 11, 2009

Panel recommends Harvard ombudsman to bridge police, campus ‘schism’
An independent committee recommended today that Harvard University create a public-safety ombudsman and take other steps to mend the at-times rocky relationship between the campus police force and the diverse community it patrols.
The committee, appointed by Harvard President Drew Faust in August after some black students and staff complained of racial profiling by the predominantly white police force, said in an 81-page report that more work needs to be done to create a welcoming, safe, and open environment for the Harvard community.
Full article [

Government Considers Option for Civil Dispute Resolution
NSW, Australia- The New South Wales Government wants to make it easier to resolve civil neighbourhood disputes over issues like fences and noise.
Attorney-General John Hatzistergos says only a small number of civil disputes are decided by a judge, but people still spend a lot of time and money preparing for court.
He has released a discussion paper on the issue which suggests alternatives to resolving civil disputes, including free legal advice and mediation.
Submissions on the discussion paper close at the end of the month.
Note, this is the entire article, the link is [

Program Readies Inmates ‘Reunions’
HAGERSTOWN, Md. A unique program geared to preparing prison inmates to reunite with their families and loved ones upon release has spread to Washington County.
Following models already in place at prisons in Baltimore and Jessup, Md., the Washington County Community Mediation Center started arranging “re-entry mediation” sessions for inmates at Maryland Correctional Training Center, a medium-security men’s prison south of Hagerstown, said Valerie Main, executive director of the Washington County center.
Full Article [here]

Voters Turn Down Mediator
ESSEX — Before humans first stepped onto windswept Conomo Point, it served as a natural divider between Essex Bay and Essex River; since the town of Essex took control of the land, it has had a similar effect on its residents.
Voters at Monday night’s annual Town Meeting were divided in ways other than numbers — 73 opposed, and 59 in favor — when asked if selectmen, along with the tenants of Conomo Point, should retain the services of a mediator to discuss the future of town-owned land north of Robbins Island Road.
Full article [here]

Mediators In Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

NICOSIA, May 6 (Xinhua) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called for a reinforced role for the Quartet in reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on a two-state basis.
In a message sent to an international meeting in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace held in Nicosia, the U.N. chief emphasized that the Quartet, which includes the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the U.N., remains, are firmly committed to the goal of a two-state solution.
…Tony Blair, the Quartet’s current special envoy, has said that the mediators will adopt a new strategic plan, while the U.S. President Barack Obama pushing for the establishment of a Palestinian state, has he met his Israeli counterpart Simon Peres in Washington.
Full article [

It’s Not Always Dispute Resolution Training

May 10, 2009

It’s Not Always Dispute Resolution Training

So, I was at an all day training the other day and got to put on my other-uniform-that-hopefully-I-will-never-ever-have-to-put-on-for-real.

The Following are the basics with the training:

  1. * The outfit is incredibly uncomfortable

* It’s definitely not one size fits all

* I sweat ALOT in it

* If the situation calls for the outfit to be put on, it’s safe to say that ADR skills are not the highest priority.

The Mindful Mediator

May 7, 2009

After a very long three days working with His Holiness the Dalai Lama here in New York City, it was great to see the term ‘mindfulness’ popping up in the ADR/mediation blogging community.

I have been a practitioner of mindfulness for over a dozen years and have been fortunate to engage with great individuals such as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat (coined the term Engaged Buddhism) and John KabatZinn.

Nancy and Debra recently blogged about mindfulness and its seven components:
Beginner’s Mind
Letting Go

read it all [here]

Tammy refers to Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (we all have read this, right?) and ends with the following question:
If you were to take off your expert’s hat (I know, there’s self-comfort in your expertise), what would you do to adopt a Beginner’s Mind? In what ways could you unbundle your skills to serve clients in new ways?
Read more [here]

Stefanie has blogged heaps on the topic of mindfulness and you can check [here] if you do not believe me.

Finally, there’s not much left to the imagination wondering if the following blog has anything to do with mindfulness and mediation- Conflict Zen.

So what does mindfulness even mean? I define it as simply being alive in the present moment- Not overly worry about the future as well as not letting your thoughts be consumed with past actions.

As a mediator, in order to be successful, I think it is imperative for one to be mindful. No, I am not saying you have to be Buddhist as mindfulness is not limited to Buddhism. It is something (like other terms such as love and compassion) which I believe transcends religion.

How do I promote mindfulness in the mediation with the parties? I ask them to try and not interrupt the other party (I mention that I promise everyone gets an opportunity to speak). Not only do I say that, but I then ask them to listen to what they other person has to to say, not to just sit there waiting for your chance to talk.

Where else does mindfulness come into play during mediation? How about breathing and relaxing? You can say you are ‘alive in the present moment’ but instead you are tense because you just received a double parking summons or worrying about getting home in time to make dinner which might not allow you to be at your mediating best.

When I explain the process of mindfully breathing to police officers I relate it to when we first received our firearms. At our initial training, and at each subsequent qualification, working the in and out breath together with pressing the trigger are emphasised continuously. If breath control is so important when using a firearm, wouldn’t one think it is also imperative to use it when communicating- something that is used many times a day?

As always, I do not want to go too in depth. If I have sparked some interest, let me know and at the same time, check out some of the above links for more information at the other blogs.


Mediation & ADR News

May 5, 2009

Staff Demand for Conflict Resolution Up 25%

The number of formal complaints filed by faculty and staff to the conflict resolution section of Human Resources has increased by 25 percent this year, a university official said.
Shari Barnes, conflict resolution facilitator, said the number of complaints received rises every year but this year’s 25 percent jump is the largest increase ever. It has been available to university staff members since October 2000 and to faculty members since May 2005, she said.

Full story [here]

Vodafone Says No To Mediator
Vodafone yesterday rejected 12th-hour offers from independent mediators to settle the row over interference from the new Telecom 3G mobile network.
Full story [here]

Should Town Hire a Mediator?
ESSEX — Days after residents were shown plans to subdivide Conomo Point south of Robbins Island Road — a benchmark in a process given the go-ahead by voters last year — residents at tonight’s annual Town Meeting will be asked if the town should hire a mediator to help reach a common ground over what’s to be done with the rest of Conomo Point.
Full story [here]

Kansas City Cuts Mediation Program
The City of Kansas City, Mo., Dispute Resolution/Community Relations section of the Human Relations Division has been eliminated due to adoption of the fiscal year 2009-10 budget. Reduction in Force procedures also eliminated all remaining staff in that office last week.
Full article [here]

ACORN Pushes For Mandatory Bank-Homeowner Mediation
Organizers for ACORN held a press conference on the steps of the Osceola County Courthouse in Kissimmee, Florida on Tuesday, April 28 at 1:00 PM to introduce a mediation program designed to help homeowners under threat of foreclosure stay in their homes.
Full story [here]

Geoff Speaks, Jeff Listens

May 4, 2009

The other much-more-famous-Jeff-but-spelled-Geoff at Mediator Blah Blah gave his review of the ABA Spring Conference on Dispute Resolution [here].

Much like how he gave it some time before he posted his thoughts on the conference, I too took some time before I posted my response to his post.

So did Geoff have a favorable after taste of the event? He states, “I mean, there may have been some gold nuggets buried deep inside the conference program but, for the most part dear reader, I did not find them.”

Never one to mince words, Geoff adds, “The program was tired and some presenters had no business being at the front of the room.”
After thinking long and hard about how I felt about his comments, I asked myself if I agree or disagree with him? Firstly, I must admit, the conference was the first I attended so there was really nothing to compare it to. I did make the best of it, and was able to meet many different wonderful people from all over the globe.

But was I challenged as Geoff wanted to be? Did I get any ‘nuggets’?
As far as breakthrough knowledge or information, the answer is no, not really. But then the question must be asked- what were my expectations? What was each person’s expectations that attended?

For me, just networking with no sinister hidden intentions other than to meet many new people, I found it to be a success on that level. Is that enough for others, maybe not. What I need to keep in perspective is as a resident of NYC, I did not have to book airfare or a hotel so my expenses were much less compared to others.

Would I have the same positive spin of ‘networking was enough for me’ attitude if I had to fly to San Francisco (where it will be held next year)? Hmm, something to consider.

But enough about me, back to Geoff and his comments. Geoff adds at the end, “It’s time for the ABA Dispute Resolution Section to re-evaluate it’s conference format and content – maybe less is more as mediation matures and the need for mediation 101 primer sessions diminish.”

Yes, the ABA are the ones who put the event together, but why put all the burden on them? Why not have some sort of survey of the members? Is there one done already? A polling of ABA members (heck add non-members like myself) to find what you like and dislike, expect and don’t care to see would give the organizers a proper sense of what to include because it is the paying audience that is weighing in. We could call it a massive debriefing…wait a minute, this sounds like consensus building!

To go slightly off track, an idea I have floated around in my head is to eventually do a survey similar to the one Bond University’s John Wade did back in April ’08. He surveyed experienced mediators to get their insight on their practices during mediation. Something similar could be done on a much larger scale (maybe called “Current Trends in Global Mediation”) and/or simply to gauge what would interest the ADR community at conferences.


Today’s Quote

May 1, 2009

“It is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

That is the quote of the day. What does it mean to me? Perhaps, if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything. Or maybe, silence is golden.

For me, it is a nice reminder to take a breath. Sometimes a deep breathe, sometimes just a simple normal breath. I do that before I speak. You know what, sometimes after doing that, I realize I do not really have to say what I planned on saying. As a mediator, I remind myself, “it’s their process, not mine”. Yes, it’s cliche but it is also true.

The quote reminds me to respond, not react.

I mention often the importance of communication, especially the things we do not say but our actions, movements, body language, etc. That said, it goes without saying it is really important to remember that our words help direct a mediation (as the mediator) as our words shine through to the parties without a filter attached.

Our words spoken cannot be taken back. Be it as a mediator or a negotiator, friend or co-worker. It doesn’t matter if you are drunk or sober (take my word, don’t try it at home!).
So, it is Friday and to keep it brief, choose your words wisely, enjoy your weekend!