Posts Tagged ‘Dialogue’

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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The Future of Policing

Author: Lee Jay Berman

police_brutalityYears ago, I mediated a case involving alleged police brutality. I’ve mediated several of them, but this one stood out from the rest. The plaintiff (the alleged victim) was African American and fairly muscular. The two officers, the defendants, along with the department, were Caucasian.

His story was that they took him to be a burglar, coming out of an apartment building late at night. They were sitting in their patrol car, when he came out the front door. When he turned to walk away from them toward his car, right away he heard their rapid footsteps coming down the sidewalk behind him. Anticipating what was coming, he dropped to his knees, and still facing away from them, he put his arms up, then laced his fingers behind his head, into what he called the international position of submission. He said he didn’t want to cause the officers any more alarm than he felt they were already feeling.

The rest of his story was that they took a billy club to his shoulders, back, and back of his head, cuffed his hands where they were behind his head, and dragged him backwards down the sidewalk by the handcuffs, and intentionally slammed his head against the patrol car when shoving him into the back seat.

The officers’ story, I’ll never know. They didn’t come to the mediation. Their commanding officer and someone from internal affairs or human resources was there, and perhaps a union representative (it’s been many years now). Their story was that the arrest was done by the book, and that the plaintiff was faking his injuries. They insisted that his injuries were consistent with self-inflicted wounds, though after his release, the hospital report was inconclusive.

At the mediation, we learned two significant facts. First, that there had been a history of racial strife in that neighborhood for a couple of years between the largely Caucasian police division, and the largely African American population. And second, that the plaintiff owned a healing clinic, and had devoted his life to helping people reduce stress and anxiety and find more inner peace through everything from meditation to counseling to somatic techniques like yoga, massage, and reiki.

When I asked him what he’d like to see happen that day at the mediation, he said that he felt very sorry for the officers. When I reminded him that he was the victim, he agreed, but said that he had been meditating on it, and couldn’t imagine the huge amount of fear, stress, and anxiety that these two officers must be under on a constant basis, in order for them to have treated him the way that they did.

Being a mediator, it’s not my job to determine who I think is telling the truth, or who is right or wrong. It’s my job to help them find the best possible mutually agreeable solution. My personal take on it is that in every case, I try my best to dig as deep as the participants will let me, in order to uncover their deepest interests or needs, and be as creative as I can to help them get those resolved, often in a way that money alone can’t.

In this case, he offered to accept enough money to pay his lawyer for having to file the case (because the department hadn’t been responsive when he tried to reach out to them directly), and then to offer to treat the two officers in his center. He wanted to prove to them, and to the department, that he and his team of professionals could so significantly reduce the stress level of these officers, that it would change their lives. Then, being an entrepreneur, he added that if he could do that, maybe the department would send more of the officers from that division, which could, in turn, reduce tensions in the entire neighborhood.

We could never get the department’s brass to sign off on the proposal, mostly saying that they couldn’t agree to anything that would single out the two officers and create the perception that they did anything wrong. I used all of my persuasiveness, and so did the plaintiff’s counsel, who was himself incredibly enlightened and collaborative. He explained that absent such a creative solution, the price to settle the case would multiply, given the risk that a jury might side with his client. But we could not overcome the department’s strong interest in defending and protecting their own. They saw that as their job, and it’s hard to argue with that.

In hindsight, I feel like we missed a turning point back then. Obviously, this week’s recent events bring this all to light again. But when I look at the rash of civilian killings by police, and the barbaric targeting of the Dallas police officers, I see an opening. I see tragic events that might create just enough public outcry and awareness, to allow people in important positions to see the overriding need for healing and decompression and creating a bridge of peace in our communities.

Fortunately, I am not alone. In Los Angeles, a group called the Institute for Nonviolence in Los Angeles, in concert with Mediators Beyond Borders and the Southern California Mediation Association, have been holding very successful meetings throughout the city called, Days of Dialogue – the Future of Policing in Los Angeles. Every city should have such a program. And those in Los Angeles, should pick one out and attend it.

We need to take back ownership of our country, and that begins one city at a time. And by ownership, I don’t mean government control, police power, or civil disobedience. I mean that We The People need to step in and help each other to have dialogue. Please think about what you can do for your part. I certainly know what my role is.

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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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Lindsay_LohanLindsay Lohan is in trouble again.  She’s in trouble with a certain judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court… again.  This time, she may have gone too far.

Lohan is stuck in Paris with an allegedly lost/stolen passport and her attorney, Shawn Chapman Holley says Lohan will not be able to appear in court Thursday morning, May 20, as ordered.  Lohan’s hearing is to determine whether the actress-singer has complied with the terms of her probation order for her 2007 conviction for driving under the influence.  See:  “Lawyer:  Lindsay Lohan will miss court date“.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marsha Revel extended Lohan’s probation hearing from a year ago in order to allow Lohan to complete her mandated alcohol abuse education.  Upon granting Lohan the extension last October, after first issuing a warrant for Lohan’s arrest for failing to comply with the requirements of her sentence, Judge Revel warned Lohan not to “thumb your nose” at the court, saying, “This is the last time we are going to be talking about re-enrolling and doing what you need to do.”

If she fails to appear, she will have violated her parole two times:  once for the failure to appear as ordered by the court, and a second time because Lohan was to have completed her alcohol abuse education program by this date, and according to Holly, Lohan has, “been in substantial compliance” but has apparently not been perfect in her ordered attendance.

Upon being notified that Lohan was unable to fly back from the Cannes film festival in time for her hearing, the judge indicated that she expected Lohan to effort all means and expense possible in order to appear.  Lohan’s father is expected to appear to plead with the judge to send his daughter back to rehab.

This is when I wish that there was an opportunity for a mediator to intervene in the process.  If that were possible, a mediator might first sit with the judge alone and ask her if she was able to allow for the possibility that Lohan’s passport might have actually been stolen.  The mediator could ask her if she could be open minded to the possibility of Lohan’s true innocence.  And that mediator might ask her what, if anything, Lohan could do to make it better with the judge – what proof would satisfy her, or what apology would trigger her forgiveness.  The mediator could remind judge Revel about her choices and about her goals and her moral compass, and about her career and her integrity, all to make sure she is making her ultimate decision with an open mind and with a clear view of all of her important perspectives, rather than out of frustration or indignation.

Then that mediator could sit with Lohan and do the same, asking her if she realizes the gravity of what has happened and whether she can see how this looks on tabloid TV when they show her partying in Cannes and then missing her court date immediately after.  The mediator might ask her to consider how the judge would look if she were lenient with Lohan, and ask Lohan how she thought she could take responsibility for her actions in a way that would convey real remorse and contrition.  By reminding her of the choices that she has – choices about what to do and how she goes about doing it, and walking her quickly through the likely outcome of each of her choices, the mediator could assist her in focusing on her big picture life goals and help her to avoid focusing just on this hearing and this ruling and miss the forest for the trees.

Individual coaching with each side in an escalating dispute is often helpful to keep them balanced and to try to help them keep their emotions from driving their decision making.

Eventually, a mediator could bring the judge together with Lohan and Holley and let them talk.  The judge might want to make it clear to Lohan that she had violated the court’s order and that there were a range of options at the judge’s disposal, including jail time.  Lohan would likely try to explain clearly the events that led to her passport’s disappearance and to come armed with a police report about the theft and a copy of the affidavit and request filed with the U.S. Consulate in Paris, and for Lohan to genuflect deeply and sincerely and apologize for putting the court in such a position.

From there, the judge would do as she saw fit.  She could find Lohan in contempt of court and order jail time, fines, or rehab, or she could believe her story and proceed with the hearing.  But whatever she chose, she would do so having had a sincere dialogue and from a place of being informed.  And Lohan, even if ordered to prison for a week or two, would at least feel like she had her opportunity to be heard.  But making a rash decision without looking into her eyes and seeking the truth would be unwise.

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Mediation World Loses a Patriarch

Author: Lee Jay Berman

Richard Millen

I am deeply saddened to announce that Richard Millen passed away today.  Most mediators in southern California knew and were touched by Richard, whether they knew it or not.  He was a motive power in forming the first court-annexed mediation program in California, in founding the now-mighty Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA), and served on boards and committees advising on mediation policy until his last months.

Richard was 89 years young and was one of those whose inspiration created organizations that have become pillars of the southern California mediation universe.  He was the motive power that helped to create the first court-annexed mediation program with the Los Angeles Superior Court (now the largest court and largest mediation program in the world).  He was a trainer with the Neighborhood Justice Center, now Dispute Resolution Services (DRS) and a division of the Los Angeles County Bar (an adoption he never sanctioned).  Richard trained under Bill Lincoln and was atop the training tree, training Bill Hobbs, who trained anyone who ever trained in Los Angeles outside of Pepperdine (me included).  Long before he taught at Pepperdine Law School’s Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution and California State Dominguez Hills’ Master’s program in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding, and with me at my Institute of Mediation Studies (previous incarnation of the American Institute of Mediation), he held mediator meetings in his pool house – meeting’s we’d probably call round tables or study groups today.

Richard also sat with Randy Lowry, Lauren Burton and others at a retreat that became the birthplace for the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA) over 20 years ago, where leaves as a “Board Member In Perpetuity”.  He meant so much to SCMA that they named their annual Peacemaker of the Year award after him, along with Ken Cloke.  He served on about every organizational board in southern California, including DRS and the State Bar’s Standing Committee on ADR.

Many of us were trained by him, influenced by him, and heard him speak at conferences, as often from the audience as from the front of the room.  A deeply spiritual man, with vigorous energy and strong beliefs about how mediation should remain “pure” and uninstitutionalized, he continued to mediate cases at 88 years of age.

Richard was one of the first interdisciplinary-trained mediators.  A Harvard lawyer, his studies to become a more complete mediator began by reading books by Krishnamurti, Ken Wilbur, Ram Daas, Martin Buber, Alan Watts, Brugh Joy, Jerry Jampolsky, Eric Frohm, quantum physicists, such as Frejof Capra and Alan Wolf, and continued to include the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Bhagavad Gita, and by Da Free John, the Knee of Listening, and by Gary Zuchav, the Seat of the Soul.  He then dove into reading about Buddhism, Zen, Dao, the Kabbalah, Christian mysticism, the Dali Lama, the occult, Freud, Jung, William James, Elizabeth Kubla Ross, and Virginia Satir.  When Richard was asked, “Isn’t that really more spirituality or philosophy than mediation?”, he would answer, “What’s the difference?  They’re all the same!”

Richard preached that mediation was “a new epistemology of thinking and speaking about conflict” and “Conflict emanates from a break down in relationship of the parties”.  He’d say that people didn’t have legal problems until they gave them to a lawyer.  He preached the fundamentals (some might say lost art) of mediation – active listening, reframing, I messages, neutral language and self-determination.  He often proudly quoted a poem by Tap Stephens that ended with “…and they did for themselves what they had come for the mediator to do.”  He believed strongly in “Dialogue” as defined and used by quantum physicist Dr. David Bohm.

Richard called himself a half-lawyer, half-entrepreneur, having served the majority of his professional years as a transactional lawyer “doing deals”.  He prided himself on being a trusted fiduciary, and loved when his clients would say, “Just ask Good Ol’ Dick Millen.  If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me”.  He started in business at the  ripe age of 10 with a paper delivery route.  Living in Knoxville, he graduated from the University of Tennessee, and then it was off to the army where he prided himself on his days in the cavalry, stationed in Italy during World War II.  When he returned, he took full advantage of the GI Bill by attending Harvard Law School.  His stumbling into mediation some 25 years ago was more due to his spiritual enlightening and personal growth as a natural outgrowth of his business and legal backgrounds, than it was a career choice.  Mediation chose Richard, more than the other way around.

Richard is survived by his wife, Mary Alice, four adult children, several grandchildren, and a community of thousands of mediators scattered throughout southern California and well beyond.

Richard was my surrogate grandfather, my mentor and my dear friend.  When I last visited with him about three weeks ago, and he told me of the cancer, he said he was being “positive and creative” in his approach to dealing with it – being a mediator to the end.

Richard liked to quote Blaise Pascal, a colleague of Decartes, who wrote, “the heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of.”  This was Richard and his huge, knowing heart.  Teaching us until the end.

We have lost a great peacemaker, a passionate teacher, and a bright, glowing spirit.  His presence will be missed.

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