The Negotiator Magazine

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The Power of the Mediator Comes from the Value Placed On The Process of Dialogue

               Mediating effectively takes both practice and patience. It takes a dogged determination to reach the objective of settlement. The mediator’s power comes from sometimes being the only optimist in the room. Knowing that although the parties may be worlds or thousands of dollars apart, most cases they mediate resolve and this one is likely to also. The disputants rarely have the experience of other disputes, and therefore are unlikely to have the same degree of confidence that the mediator holds.

               Because the mediator has that confidence, based upon her experience successfully resolving hundreds of disputes, however, contentious on the one hand, and dissimilar on the other, the mediator’s power comes from the willingness to take risks towards the end point.

               The Mediator has the power to time and sequence the process. She alone has the power to design and orchestrate the right moment for the climactic “joint session”, the separation of the parties, the necessary breaks or pauses in the negotiation for release of tension or emotion.

               In a recent Public Appearance at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, famed news reporter Walter Cronkite took credit for orchestrating the MidEast peace talks between Egypt and Israel. He related the story that he inquired of Anwar Sadat why he had never chosen to engage in discussions with Israel. His response was: “They have never invited me to talk.” When he found the Prime Minister of Israel to have no objection, it was Cronkite who orchestrated the two world leaders to come together. Imagine a newscaster brokering a discussion of this magnitude! But indeed, it was he alone who held the power to invite the necessary parties to the negotiating table. He was in the right place, with the right idea. And each party had a relationship with him of trust and confidence.

               In another example, a colleague in Orange County, a retired business man in the trucking industry, now acting as a full-time mediator, sets up his mediations with all parties seated alongside one another and facing the mediator. He is a rotund man, with an endearing Brooklyn accent. When he sets the stage for a mediation, he is often met with resistance. The parties are unaccustomed to this “layout” in their litigated disputes. And yet, he achieves a sense of authority, and therefore confidence that he is taking the lead in designing the process under which they will proceed.

               The Mediator’s power also comes from the value of respectful dialogue.  Talking out differences leads to collaboration towards a mutual goal.  Talking is the antithesis to violence.  Just as every parent knows, when children learn to “use their words” they are often able to express themselves in ways that are far less emotionally volatile (screaming, crying, kicking, biting) than pre-verbal conduct.  So too with adults, dialogue, which is by definition “dual”, allows for at least two perspectives to be heard. 

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May 2007