The Negotiator Magazine

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                  We live in a new America, and you work in a new Navy.  There’s a healthy mix of ethnic backgrounds, languages and even men and women.  With that diversity, comes a growing need for “translators’:  people who can speak and understand the different cultural nuances that arise when  people of different backgrounds work side by side.  In many of the cases I mediate, there are immigrant business people doing business on a handshake.  Their word is their bond and their honor and integrity mean everything.  Yet when there is a conflict, they are left without the legally binding “evidence” of their agreements or understanding.  Their lawyers have to honestly appraise them that their chances of prevailing in court are slim.  Nonetheless, their chances at “prevailing” in mediation are excellent!  This is the promise of mediation.             ADR, ladies and gentlemen, is also the one way that different values can be harmonized.  Where a man might demand “justice”, a woman might maintain that justice is only borne out when human relations are preserved.  The promise of mediation is that it offers an opportunity to acknowledge and respect both needs in the same process.             Recently, I’ve begun to recognize an interesting anomaly.  Many of the cases which I’ve heard that are not “settled” at mediation, are the most satisfying hearings for the participants.  No mediation is “a waste of time”.  In a recent survey conducted by the EEOC, 94% of charging parties said they would come back to mediation, and 98% of Respondents said they would come back.  Yet, the resolution rate is nowhere near that.   It’s critical not to be so focused on the “result”, but to honor the process itself. Often this meets the disputants’ objectives, even if the conflict is not resolved at that setting. It unlocks the conflict, and enables the disputants to move forward.             My father told me of his experience as an enlisted Naval Reserve Officer in 1944.  A 17 year old boy, he reminded me that his unit was comprised of only Caucasian men.  The African-American men were housed in a different unit, because they all worked in the bakery or as cooks, while the Jewish men, in my father’s memory, primarily were assigned to work in the hospitals and medical clinics.  Nonetheless, Dad challenged the authorities early on, and was therefore given his last choice of assignments (with apologies to Joan Williams):  Portsmouth, Virginia.  After that, he didn’t dare protest, for fear of getting on a superior’s “list”.             In 1944, there was no opportunity for young men to protest or speak up in the Navy.  But we live in a new America, and you work in a new Navy. I was reflecting back upon my own childhood.  I grew up during the “Cold War”, and every Friday morning, air raids would sound:   even in kindergarten, we were trained to “drop, duck and cover”, hovering under our desks until the sirens were silent.  We learned from the age of five, that at any moment the Russians could send their nuclear missiles all the way to Los Angeles, and we would have to act quickly when the air raids sounded to protect our tender young lives.

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February 2007