Forward and Upward: A Toddler's View of Conflict Resolution : Lesson #1: Look for the Helpers
Readers will recall that last year's newsletter was a series of "Life Lessons", in tribute to my late mother. This year, I am happy to report that I am learning and re-learning new life lessons through the eyes of the next generation, my granddaughter. Like "My Mother's Legacy", these are lessons that serve me well as I apply them to mediation.
Fred Rogers (known to children all over as "Mr. Rogers") used to say that when he was a boy and would see scary things in the news, his mother would say to him, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." It's good advice in conflict, too. Often, there are two or more angry and challenging personalities. But if you look carefully, you may also find a "helper" or two--someone who can be an ally more than an adversary, someone who remains calm when tempers flare and brings creative solutions to the mediating table.
Recently, I mediated a pre-litigation real estate dispute in which the broker/agent had represented both buyer and seller in a transaction the buyer now considered to be fraudulent. Based upon early opening statements by the disputants, I could see that the matter could not only be an enormous expense in litigation and exposure to hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, but it also had the potential of bringing into play deep issues of integrity, honesty, reputation in the community, trust, and also potentially embarrassment and shame.
Drawing upon Mr. Rogers' advice, I quickly identified "the helpers"--(the professional brokers in one of the conference rooms and their very seasoned real estate lawyer) and engaged them in a dialogue about strategies to remedy the issue, rather than surrender to the notion that the only choice was litigation and arbitration to address the problem. They eagerly became fully engaged and, although the matter has not settled, it is certainly on a path towards resolving the conflict without any lawsuits being filed.
In this New Year, I invite you to take this journey with me with fresh eyes and a view towards a better way to achieve settlements of a variety of disputes. There is a lot to be learned or re-
Jan Frankel Schau