Approach Conflict with Kindness




This year's newsletter will be a series of "Life Lessons", in tribute to my late mother. They are lessons that have served me well as I apply them to mediation. 

I had the privilege to hear Justice Anthony Kennedy, Senior Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court speak at a local ABTL meeting last week.  On the evening when the 9th Circuit had ruled on the stay of Trump's Executive Order on Immigration, he spoke of a "crisis in civic discourse".  Kennedy explained that it is essential that we address this crisis for three reasons:  to reclaim our heritage of freedom for the children of America's future, to inspire other people around the world who are not privileged to live in constitutional democracies and to control our own destiny as against the potentials of disassociation of human interaction as it is quietly overtaken through cyber-space.

This month has been extremely busy in my mediation practice.  I have had a series of cases where the clients were completely at odds with one another.  In some instances, they knew one another well, but in others they had only interacted through missives on the Internet.  Thankfully, in every one, the lawyers approached the conflict with kindness and generosity towards one another.  For them, the conflict was not personal, but business.  They were respectful of one another and of me, the humble "go between" who sometimes had to disappoint or deliver harsh news and reality checks. Each settled, despite the legal, factual and emotional issues that rose up during the hearings.  In each one, the lawyers shook hands, thanked one another for their cooperation and expressed their appreciation of the other's approach to a difficult negotiation.  It was, in fact, reassuring that even as our Country seems to be in such a crisis, civic discourse took place in conference rooms instead of court rooms.  Imagine that!

My mother understood the inherent nature of civic discourse.  I under-appreciated the challenging task she faced with such diplomacy and good will of a life-long role as the mediator between her side of the family and my father's, between her adult children, between the competing issues of time, attention and even funds amongst the many generations she navigated during her lifetime.  Now I see what a delicate balance she struck and what a narrow tightrope she sometimes needed to walk--with grace and good cheer! 

Like my mother, I am a perennial optimist and I genuinely hope that every litigant approaches mediation as my mother would:  with a view towards the bright opportunity of both ending the dispute and looking forward to a day when the conflict that has been nagging and causing anxiety and expense is behind them.  As Justice Kennedy put it, "where there is danger, there lurks opportunity".  

P.S.  On this President's Day weekend, I share one of my favorite quotes from Abraham Lincoln:  "Discourage litigation.  Persuade your neighbors to compromise wherever you can.  As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man.  There will still be business enough."  

Best Regards,

Jan Frankel Schau


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