The Role of Humility in Mediation


Back in 1748, Lord Chesterfield said: “Never seem wiser or more learned than the people you are with.” On Easter Sunday, the New York Times published an Op Ed Article by Peter Wehner entitled, “The Quiet Power of Humility”. There, he cited a social psychologist, an atheist who still finds much to admire in religion, who opined that the most constructive contribution Christians could make to public life would be simply, “humility”. And yet, Wehner posits that humility is a much neglected virtue. In a way, he observes, humility has gone “out of fashion”.

At trial, one would not expect the advocate/warriors to approach the Judge or jury with humility and yet, in my view, that is exactly what is needed in order to reach a settlement in mediation. Both sides need to accept that they may not be wiser than the other, they may not be more credible or skillful in presenting their case than their opposing counsel, and their client may not be more likable or appealing than the people seated at the opposite side of the table. Each side needs to accept that if they are to avoid the risks and consequences of doing battle, they must approach the negotiation with some measure of grace and gentleness. Both sides need to embrace the concept that there may, in fact, be no “objective truth”, or that those who hold the power to “judge” their clients and their cases may not perceive the truth in the same way as they do. Without accepting that there may be some doubt in all that we say or do, we can’t be open to new information or circumstances, (or another perspective when it is offered by a neutral third party). Humility requires that a person engage with and carefully listen to people who understand things in ways dissimilar to their own. With some humility, perhaps there is a greater prospect of hope for a path towards higher understanding of one another.

I humbly offer that a dose of humility would at least go some distance towards accepting compromise as the better solution than testing the competing “truths” when such a compromise is at least palatable to each side.

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About the Author

Jan Schau

Jan Frankel Schau is an Attorney Mediator in Los Angeles, California. She is an exclusive Neutral with ADR Services, Inc. specializing in employment, business and tort matters.

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