On April 29, the New England Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution held its annual meeting in Wellesley, MA and presented a program by Emily Gould of Empatia Resolutions, in Montpelier, VT. The annual meeting was brief, and at that time I ended my term as president and began a one-year term as secretary.
After the annual meeting, we moved on to the main event: Emily’s presentation, “The Oxygen Mask Principle: Self-care as skill-building for the dispute resolution practitioner.” Emily is an experienced attorney, conflict coach, trainer, and mediator. She provided a thought-provoking perspective on how a mediator can serve herself or himself as well as clients by becoming more mindful of the values and needs that underlie the interests that themselves underlie positions.
Several weeks ago, Connecticut Gov. Malloy was quoted as using the phrase “Getting to Yes or Getting to No Quickly.” He was applying this idea to the state’s foreclosure mediation program. Gov. Malloy was talking about the value of having consistent participants in each case, instead of a rotating cast of representatives of banks who each needed to be brought up to speed, and the necessity that the representative have the authority to enter into a binding agreement without a delay to check back with another person not immediately available.
These two specific points highlight some of the nuts and bolts necessary to a successful mediation process. And the quote itself addresses the very idea of “success” in a mediation process. Although a resolution to the dispute is the typical goal of any mediation process, learning sooner instead of later that a resolution will not be possible is a great help to all involved. The inability to reach a resolution at the time of a mediation is not necessarily failure, but wasting time and money because the process itself is flawed hurts the particular participants and any mediation program.
Ten days ago, after a short-term solution to the “fiscal cliff” was announced, the New York Times ran an article by James B. Stewart titled “In Budget Talks, Getting to ‘Yes’”. Stewart had interviewed various academic experts on the negotiation approaches that the Republicans and Democrats had been employing. Suffice it to say that the experts were not impressed. Hard lines and high risks were carrying the day.
In particular, William Ury, one of the authors of the classic book “Getting to Yes” noted: “So much of what we’re seeing is being driven by emotion, anger, frustration, and feelings of betrayal.” Daylian Cain, who teaches negotiation at the Yale School of Management, suggested that some lower-stress social events might “build some social capital for cliffs to come.”
I was struck by how clearly the sentiments of Dr. Ury and Professor Cain applied to families in conflict over money. So often, families find themselves driving wedges between family members over just those emotions — applied to money. Once they start down that path, low-key interactions can become rare or nonexistent. With no goodwill remaining, the next challenge is that much harder to overcome.
Although they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, this photograph of the panel who spoke at the NE-ACR fall program does not begin to do justice to the rich and complex topics they covered. “Conflict, Consensus and Leadership in the Political Debate” could have gone in many directions — some of them quite tired and tiresome. We weren’t really concerned that our panelists and moderator would disappoint us and they certainly did not. Instead, they used their individual perspectives, based on a variety of impressive experiences, to talk about dialogue, consensus-building, mediation, and negotiation in the public sphere. It was a great program which prompted interesting questions from the audience and gave us a great deal to think about as we do our work.
Every year, on the third Thursday of October, the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) celebrates Conflict Resolution Day.
As the ACR website describes the day:
“Conflict Resolution Day was conceived in 2005 by ACR to:
• Promote awareness of mediation, arbitration, conciliation and other creative, peaceful means of resolving conflict;
• Promote the use of conflict resolution in schools, families, businesses, communities, governments and the legal system;
• Recognize the significant contributions of (peaceful) conflict resolvers; and
• Obtain national synergy by having celebrations happen across the country and around the world on the same day.”
It’s great to have a special opportunity to celebrate the work that I so much enjoy!
On Wednesday, October 17, at 5:30, the New England Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution (NE-ACR) will present its fall program in Wellesley, MA. This time, it’s a panel discussion on “Conflict, Consensus, and Leadership in the Political Debate.” Lorraine Della Porta, of the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration, will moderate. The panelists will be Joni Doherty, of the New England Center for Civic Life, Mari Fitzduff, of the International Master of Arts Program in Coexistence and Conflict at Brandeis University, and Susan Podziba public policy mediator and author of “Civic Fusion: Mediating Polarized Public Disputes.”
We’re looking forward to a timely and thought-provoking program. As President of NE-ACR, I tip my hat to the program committee for their work to put this program together. There is more information on NE-ACR and the program here: www.neacr.org.
Roger Fisher’s death at age 90 provides an opportunity to reflect on his extraordinary impact on conflict resolution and mediation. According to his New York Times obituary, Professor Fisher decided to dedicate his life to helping avoid war after seeing some of the horrors of World War II and its aftermath.
He is likely best remembered as a co-author of “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, ” which has sold millions of copies and has been translated into 36 languages. (Some of those copies were purchased by students in my Alternative Dispute Resolution course at the University of New Haven.)
The Times obituary references his “optimistic can-do brand of problem solving” and his emphasis on the “mutual interests of the disputing parties instead of what separated them.” He taught his students at the Harvard Negotiation Project, which he co-founded, that “Peace is not a piece of paper, but a way of dealing with conflict when it arises.”
Professor Fisher leaves a legacy of both real world engagement to resolve conflicts and publication of a valuable and timeless text that continues to help people in conflict around the globe.
Earlier this month, NE-ACR, the New England Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution, held its 2012 Summer Institute at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT. In a day-long program, Joe Brummer of Community Mediation, Inc., guided us through “Secrets of a Successful Workshop: Design and Delivery.” Joe had pointers on how best to create the program that allows participants to gain the most, both before the program begins and as the group gathers to start.
As Joe wisely noted, because we all experience conflict– it’s a normal part of life — we all have some exposure to handling conflict. Those who contact Joe for a custom-designed workshop may have clearly understood needs, vague concerns, or basic misconceptions about conflict management and mediation. The care taken in designing and delivering a workshop can be the difference between success and failure.
“Mediation for disputes involving trusts and estates: It’s an idea whose time has come.” That’s a quote from the program description for a Continuing Legal Education program presented by the New York State Bar Association. The program, “The Basics of Mediating Trusts & Estates Disputes CLE Program”, was co-sponsored by the Dispute Resolution Section and the Trusts & Estates Law Section.
Although I might say that it’s time should have come before May of 2012, I applaud the presentation — better late than never!
At year’s end, it’s time to look back at the biggest story for Connecticut mediation in 2011. A few months ago, the Judicial Branch, faced with the challenge of meeting its budget restrictions, decided to cut funding for mediation services provided by not-for-profits in the Superior Court. The defunding was a tough hit for the three Connecticut mediation agencies: the Hartford Area Mediation Program, the Dispute Settlement Center, and Community Mediation, Inc.
The loss was direct for the programs these groups staffed and the courts they worked in. Mediation of minor criminal offenses and other matters came to a halt. Both defendants and victims lost the opportunity to work with a trained mediator for dispute resolution that worked for their particular circumstances, as well as a chance to address underlying issues that could bubble to the surface again — perhaps in a more violent manner — in the future.
The loss is indirect, too. Many people have no direct experience with mediation, but hear about it through others who participate or through the results it can achieve. As more people learn about the benefits of mediation, more see it as an option for their own conflicts, of whatever nature. The loss of these court programs diminishes the opportunities for more people to learn how mediators work and mediation as a method of conflict resolution.