Archive for the ‘Mediation Skills’ Category

As a mediator and leadership coach, I have to say this:  While generally I don’t disagree with most of what Meryl Streep said during her acceptance speech for the Hollywood Foreign Press’s Lifetime Achievement Award at tonight’s Golden Globe awards, she did miss an incredible opportunity.

First, she used her audience, her station, and her status the same way she accuses President-Elect Trump of using his.  Then, by attacking him, all she did was up the ante and unify his supporters (half of our country), while ensuring that Newton’s third law of physics persists:  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  As long as any of us advocate for one “side” over another, or argue over who/what is right/wrong, and frame it as “us and them”, we simply continue volleying in the same game.  The only way to unify us as a people, and appeal to the vast middle of the bell curve, is instead to catch the ball, stop the game, walk to the middle of the court and have real dialogue, with listening, understanding, and acknowledgement.

If you were cheering her speech, you may be caught up in the game, too.  We call it confirmation bias, where you seek out what you agree with because it feels good.  If you are booing it, maybe you should listen again and hear her words.  The fact that she delivered them in advocacy doesn’t mean that they are wrong; it only means she said them in a way that some couldn’t hear them.  And perhaps with a little too much judgment.

As a mediator, I know that telling people they are wrong doesn’t change their minds.  And as one who regularly mediates with the biggest celebrities in “Hollywood”, I know that even the ballroom before her was divided.  I also know that her talk made it unsafe for any who disagreed to speak up.  That’s why the election polls were so inaccurate.

We should be seeking to make people stop and scratch their heads and think in a new way about things they hadn’t before considered, rather than seeking to make the majority cheer and raise a fist.  As long as both sides persist in the latter, we are trapped in this volley for the unforeseeable future.

I call upon my mediator and leadership colleagues, and on all of you reading this, to help change the game and create dialogue, modeling more inquiry and active listening than advocacy.  It is up to all of us.

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Boston, Violence and Listening

Author: Lee Jay Berman

boston-bombing-150Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen R. Covey

We are once again in the wake of a tragedy.  News outlets are filled with coverage, details are slowly emerging, and the cover of Time Magazine shows a frightened child in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Many runners were running in memory of the Newtown, Connecticut victims, meeting tragedy with tragedy.

It is so difficult to find the words to express thoughts and feelings when there are infinitely more questions.  How could someone do this?  Why would someone do this?  Am I at risk?  We’ve even caught one of the suspected bombers alive, but still the unfortunate reality is that the answers to these questions may never be known and will certainly never be satisfying, certainly not to a daughter-less mother, a son-less father or a victim missing a limb.

So, how did we get here?   Simply put, someone wasn’t listening and someone wasn’t being heard.  As of this writing, we don’t know much about why this horrendous act was perpetrated.  But what we do know is that it was a statement – a political statement from a disenfranchised party, be it a person or a group, during the busiest area of a highly visible race on a highly visible day.

When people lash out, whether it’s in line at the dry cleaner, via road rage or in acts of terrorism like school shootings or the occurrences at the Boston Marathon, they usually do so because nobody has listened to them.  People get stifled, ignored, pushed down, or just out shouted, and not enough of us are listening.  So, feeling unheard and misunderstood, they scream louder, through social media or any other outlet they can find, until they finally lash out with anger or violence, so that someone will be forced to pay attention and listen to them.

To be clear, it is not anyone’s fault when someone resorts to violence, other than the person who cannot or does not contain their own emotions.  But when we ask ourselves, what could we have done, perhaps there is one answer that may have helped.

As a society, we are so connected by technology: email, news feeds, Facebook, Twitter, Skype. There is so much talk. So much chatter and noise.  But nobody listens.  Most people are merely waiting their turn to chime in with their own woes.  As human beings we all want to be understood, we want to have that moment of satisfaction and that feeling that someone actually understands us, maybe even cares.  As adults, as citizens in our communities, and in our schools, it is incumbent on us to actively choose to listen, to show empathy and compassion, and to give to others the feeling of being understood.  We don’t have to agree with everything others are saying, but by listening and letting them know that they’ve been heard, we may remove their need to shout louder.  Otherwise, a tool of communication becomes a tool of separation.

Mediators do not have magic wands.  All we really do is convince people to come in for a day, disconnect from technology, and allow us to listen to them and address their concerns.  We ask them to do this for each other. We let them know we hear them and that they are understood, thereby hopefully reducing or eliminating conflict.  School counselors, therapists, human resource professionals and others in the mental health and services professions are trained to do the same thing.  But every person reading this can make a difference, too.

In the coming days, weeks, and months, I implore people to take a moment to truly listen.  Listen to a friend.  Listen to a colleague.  Listen to your children.  Check in.  Ask questions and seek first to understand as we are all trying to understand.  Maybe that will be the difference between conflict and resolution.  And maybe even it will be the difference between violence and satisfaction.

 

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SCMA LogoThis year’s 22nd Annual Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA) Conference had an emotional start to the day.  The morning began with a Moment of Silence for our dear departed friend Richard Millen that included his son Jeff saying a few words on his behalf, followed by the awarding of the new SCMA-sponsored Richard Millen scholarship at the Western Justice Center in Pasadena, where the bright and promising recipient used his acceptance speech to quote some of Richard’s articles.  It was odd hearing the words of our 89 year old Zen guru mediator being channeled through the voice of a young man in his early 20’s, and with almost equal passion.

As if that wasn’t enough, Laurel Kaufer spoke next about this year’s Cloke-Millen Peacemaker of the Year award recipients – the women who carry life sentences in Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, California, who wrote to Laurel and asked her to come and teach them conflict resolution and peacemaking skills, just as Laurel had done in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina with the residents on the ground there.  We all watched tearful women talk about being murders, with life sentences, and learning for the first time in their lives to listen deeply, reflect back, ask open-ended questions, and how to create peace.  Chilling.

It was no wonder to me that when they awarded me the L. Randolph Lowry Award for education and learning in the field, and I began to talk about what it meant to me, especially being named for my friend, mentor and partner in traveling-the-country-teaching-mediation-and-negotiation, Randy Lowry.  To give you a clearer picture, Randy and I have taught side-by-side, from the gorgeous Pepperdine Law School in Malibu, to  to a group of franchisees San Francisco, a law firm in Chicago, a legal department in Cincinnati, nurses at a huge Dallas Hospital,  for a university in Jackson, Mississippi and Hilton Head, South Carolina, at Randy’s new home at Lipscomb University in Nashville, and to insurance adjusters in 15 states over 18 months.  We have sat side by side telling stories in the airport at 1am as our flight is delayed, knowing we’ll be up teaching at 8am.  We have been through a lot together.  He was there for me when my father passed away five years ago, and he and Rhonda have had me to their home, here in L.A. and also after they moved to Nashville.  Randy trusted me to mentor his son, when John entered the training and consulting business with us.  And Randy was the one who believed in me, that as a non-attorney mediator, I had something to teach to lawyers and judges at Pepperdine Law School and for the California Center for Judicial Education and Research.  He named me Director of Pepperdine’s Mediating the Litigated Case program, a position I held for 7 years, until he had left the University.

So, nobody blamed me when I choked up while accepting the award.  It was the proudest moment of my professional life (so far).

In order to save repeating what others have already done today, I’m going to point you to two very kind and thoughtful summaries of what yesterday’s conference meant to these folks:

Jan Schau’s Mediation Insights:   The Wisdom of My Mentors

Joe Markowitz’s Mediation’s Place:  The Funnel

There is also some thoughtful commentary here from Joe on attorney, judge and non-attorney mediators and what each brings to the table (and a candid assessment on what they don’t).

A final thought, for mediators, attending conferences and training courses is important – not just for what you learn, but for the opportunity to share the experience with other colleagues.  As I said in my keynote yesterday, our profession is an individual one where we are all, as my freind Alex Williams like to say, in our own foxhole fighting our own battle.  Coming to conferences and training courses refreshes us, keeps us tuned up with new tools and refreshing old ones, and keeps us in touch with those around us who share the burden of sitting between two or more people who are in an intractable fight, and thinking that we can do something to help them.  It can be lonely work.  I find it’s always good to get together with friends and colleagues who are doing this work, and share our stories, our challenges, and our learnings.  Just food for thought…

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Am I the only one who is tired of political rhetoric?  Am I the only one tired of turning on the TV and radio only to hear Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olberman, Bill O’Reilly, Randi Rhodes, Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow earning big bucks for doing nothing more than repeating sound bites, talking points and arguing extreme perspectives on every issue?  How did we get to the point where political debates were so politically correct that our leaders are afraid to say anything that their base might disagree?  How did “We the people” allow our politicians to become puppets to special interest groups and lobbyists with the largest budgets?

It really is time for a change.  In a time where more mediators are running for office, bringing with them the skills that conflict resolvers use, and where for a recent judge seat in Los Angeles County, four mediators were among those running, I think the change is more one of process than of ideals.  While most will agree that President Obama has certainly been a change from his preceding President Bush, many would also say that policy change has not solved the problems we face.  What is needed instead is process change.  Until we change the way we do leadership, in government, big business and in every organization, whether a massive homeowner’s association or a small non-profit board, we will continue to face the same frustrations, the same failures, the same disenfranchising, and the same power struggles.

John KavanaghKyrsten SinemaThis is why I decided to hold our Immigration Dialogue 2010 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on July 23rd.  Sponsored by the American Institute of Mediation, this will be a discussion of a different kind.  Rather than hosting a debate, where each side slings sound bites and talking points at the other, and the result is that each audience member becomes even more galvanized behind the position they carried with them into the debate hall, we are putting on a facilitated dialogue, essentially a mediation, featuring Arizona Representatives John Kavanagh (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D).  We will discuss the immigration issues facing our nation, and have some discussion about Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which is due to become law on July 28 of this year.

These two lawmakers, both intelligent and articulate, along with their constituents, have lived with these issues up close and personally in recent years.  Because of their experiences and their perspectives on the immigration issues we all face today (the fact that there are somewhere between 11 and 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country), we can delve into the underlying interests that they and their constituents hold, that are driving their positions on the solution.

In hosting this event, the American Institute of Mediation is hoping to commence a change in the way we all talk about the critical issues that face our society, and to become more collaborative and a little less competitive; to listen more and argue less; and to explain, describe and attempt to understand, rather than simply repeating sound bites and talking points.

We will attempt to find the underlying interests that they have in common, and build from there because we believe that solutions that are derived from people’s interests are generally strong and long lasting, and we hope to demonstrate this by moving this discussion in that direction using the same skills that mediators use on a daily basis.

If a mere 120-minute dialogue about immigration among stakeholder representatives could curtail protests, boycotts and protracted litigation, wouldn’t you welcome the opportunity to watch such a conversation live and in person?  We expect to fill a 300-seat neutral venue in Los Angeles with members of the public, government, law enforcement and of course the media who would witness how parties interested in the controversial immigration question might come together to have a facilitated dialogue from which every state, not just Arizona, could benefit.

We will do all that we are able to provide a safe, protest-free venue, a respectful audience, media coverage and the opportunity for our guests to speak about their issues freely and fully.

I am donating my time and resources to this project because in my 16-year career as a mediator, I have never encountered a conflict that could not benefit from a structured mediative approach when the parties so need to have their interests understood.  I believe the immigration dilemma has been minimized to sound-bites and protests and is no exception to this rule. Our guests, as thought leaders on this topic deserve to be better heard and understood by those who disagree with them, and we are able to provide that forum.

We invite you to join us for this AIM Institute Special Event. Only 200 tickets will be sold, so register now before it sells out. Advance registration is required, and parking is free.  Video highlights will be available online at the AIM Institute site following the event.

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Please join me at the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Solocon 2010 on June 18 at the Pasadena Convention Center.  I am honored to be the luncheon keynote speaker, presenting “Adaptive Negotiation for Lawyers,” strategies to became a more effective negotiator.

Most lawyers negotiate very successfully, but generally have one style that you use in all circumstances—with opposing counsel, with clients, with partners, etc.  We find that a more refined approach can benefit lawyers most by understanding the different schools of negotiation that lead to different styles and methods.  Adaptive Negotiation for Lawyers is a program that illustrates these different approaches.  In 45 short minutes you can enhance your negotiation style from one that has always worked for you before and been most comfortable—because it is most consistent with your personality and your tolerance for risk and conflict.  It calibrates your negotiation style instead to be more strategic, reacting to what the situation before you requires, and making you an immediately more effective negotiator.

LACBA Solo LogoSolocon, co-sponsored by the Bar Associations of Pasadena, Santa Clarita Valley, Century City and Glendale, focuses on how to run a small or solo practice like a business and make it thrive.  Panels include:

  • Technology for Law Firms
  • Tips for Opening & Running a Law Firm
  • Rainmaking for Smalls & Solos
  • Building Your Social Media Strategy
  • Implementing a Solo Business Plan
  • Attracting the Clients You Want
  • When Solo Practice is NOT Solo
  • Credit Cards & Compliance Issues
  • Negotiation Tips

In today’s legal environment, when lawyers are being displaced, firms are merging, imploding and evaporating, new lawyers are having trouble finding employment, and lawyers are seeking a greater quality of life, practicing solo or forming new, vibrant, lean and efficient small firms is an important option.  For these reasons, Small and Solo Bar Sections are thriving.  I can say that this conference impressed me last year, in how it was run, how cutting edge it was, and with the quality of speakers.  I can hardly wait for this year’s conference next Friday!

For more information, visit http://aiminst.com/solocon.

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