Forward and Upward: A Toddler's View of Conflict Resolution: Lesson #3: A smile can make even bad news tolerable






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. 

The mediator you choose often needs to deliver bad news to your clients that you have not yet delivered.  Sometimes, there is evidence that is revealed that hurts your client's chances of success at trial.  Other times, the parties are told they cannot achieve their financial goals, or will simply have to pay more than they budgeted or planned on to settle the case.  This can be met with tears or anger, but it doesn't have to be delivered that way.

Mediators use a technique called "re-framing", to couch even bad news as "progress" in the march towards resolving a case.  If we lead with a smile and look "forward and upward", even the worst of news may not be fatal to the efforts to settle.  After all, most disputes do resolve--sooner or later.  And after all is said and done, that bitter pill can be much more easily swallowed if the mediator presents it with an optimism about the value of getting that information in advance of a public hearing.

This week was Picture Week at Pre-School.  Even at 2 years old, my little Clara was told to smile for a stranger's brightly lit camera.  Though infants are often photographed on their parents cell phones, this was a new experience to be posed and professionally photographed for her.  She complied and, well, it was magic, of course.

The next time you find you have to deliver bad news in mediation, try delivering it with a smile and see if the impact is softened.  It may be the easiest way to subtly re-frame bad news into acceptable news.

P.S.:  I'm pleased to be published in this month's ABA "Just Resolutions Newsletter". Send me an email if you'd like a copy of my latest article:  "Transformative Moments in Commercial Mediation".  Happy Spring!


Best Regards,

Jan Frankel Schau

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