Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Magic Pennies & Card Tricks

I was quoted in the Los Angeles Daily Journal today, in a marvelous article about the magic of mediation, by my wonderful friend and fellow mediator Victoria Pynchon.

She relates how she successsfully resolved a complex longstanding litigated dispute between neighbors by using a charmingly whimsical concept: "magic pennies." Her account is too good to encapsulate here, so please click here to read the whole story, or email me and I'll forward you a PDF file. (Meanwhile, be sure to regularly visit her terrific blog.)

Here's the part in her article about me:

My friend and fellow mediator Jerry Lazar actually is a magician -- miraculously settling cases by day and then unsettling audiences with close-up miracles at the Magic Castle by night. I wondered what "magical" solutions he conjured up at the mediation table.

"My only trick," he told me, "is to incentivize the parties by slapping a deck of cards on the table at the start of the session. Then I purposefully start shuffling and cutting them. The parties think you're a mad genius or a crackpot, but either way it gets their attention. Then you authoritatively announce: 'If we reach resolution today, I'll reward you with a card trick... but if we fail to reach resolution, I'll punish you with two card tricks.'

"Whenever the parties are at impasse, I casually toy with the deck. You’d be amazed at how quickly that motivates them to keep pushing forward...' "

On a more somber note, Lazar adds: "When we begin our mediation training and practice, we often hear (and speak) of the magic of mediation. When it works, it truly is wondrous. It's easy to see why a mediator feels like a wizard with supernatural powers, enabling lambs to lie down with lions. Based on my experience in the realms of magic and mediation, here is my hope.

"Once upon a time, if you could take a cup of water, put it in a box, push a button, and make that water boil -- without raising the temperature inside the box -- you'd have a miracle on your hands. Ditto for talking to someone, or even seeing them in real time, on the other side of the planet -- or even in outer space! How magical is that! And yet, thanks to technology, even the youngest child is jaded by these daily experiences.

"My fondest wish is that our social evolution keeps pace with our technological progress, so that the peaceful resolution of disputes will similarly become as commonplace as microwaves and mobile devices. Then it will no longer seem that mystical forces -or card tricks, or magic pennies -- are needed to bring together the bitterest of enemies for a common purpose.”

Monday, April 28, 2008

Baby Steps

"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step." Lao-Tzu

Let me tell you about an offbeat exercise we did in Woody Mosten's Divorce Mediation class. All 17 students were instructed to think of a recent conflict in their lives. Then we lined up at the front door inside his house, and one-by-one, we walked single-file down the sidewalk to the corner, thinking hard about what small incremental steps we could take to resolve that conflict.

Now here's the catch: We literally had to take small steps. One can only imagine what the neighbors thought, watching this dreamy snail-like procession of baby steppers -- some with deliberate heel-to-toe tightrope precision, others shuffling serenely. After we finally gathered, we uniformly acknowledged that, although we initially felt uncomfortable and impatient, we gradually synchronized our thought processes to our body movement, and by contemplating each step slowly and individually, our solution-seeking became more efficient and productive.

Try it yourself -- you'll be surprised.

As I later told Woody, this exercise reminded me of invaluable lessons I learned from my old friend and colleague Robert Maurer, a psychotherapist who travels the world conducting popular workshops around the principles of Kaizen. He's even written the book on the subject: "One Small Step Can Change Your Life: Using the Japanese Technique of Kaizen to Achieve Lasting Success."

"Oh, yes," Woody replied with a smile, indicating that he was quite familiar with the ancient Zen philosophy. Like my friend Bob Maurer, he too had learned about it from popular literature about workplace management in the 1980s, and consciously chose to adapt and embrace its power for personal and institutional evolution.

Kaizen is a Japanese term that literally means "good change." Pronounced ki-zen (to rhyme with "lies in"), it prescribes "continual, small, gradual improvement," rather than its thematic opposite--innovation--which connotes big, bold, sudden, seismic change. Innovation is emblematized by lightbulbs and "Eureka!"; Kaizen is baby steps, "one day at a time."

Kaizen was applied, ironically, by an American management consultant, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who used it to maximize the quality of manufacturing during World War II. After the war, Deming then introduced the concept to Japanese manufacturers such as Toyota. Kaizen, then, is credited for the blindsiding and dethroning of the American automobile industry during the 1980s by the Japanese, who trained their workers to focus on manageable, incremental improvements at a time when U.S. car manufacturers were thinking "bigger and better."

Kaizen has applications far beyond manufacturing. It's a powerful tool in creativity and personal change. For most people, innovation--making large steps to accomplish goals--is the only way to proceed. The idea that small, seemingly trivial steps can lead to the same end, and sometimes even faster, defies common sense, but it appears the tortoise and the hare fable can also be a model for enduring transformation.

As the director of behavioral sciences for the family practice residency program at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and a faculty member with the UCLA School of Medicine, Maurer embraced Kaizen early on as a valuable tool for patients to improve their health, relationships, and careers. Maurer's investigations have led him to explore how successful people sustain their excellence and enthusiasm in the face of adversity.

I wanted to know how Kaizen can specifically help mediators (who by definition are at the very nexus of adversity) -- not just in their day-to-day practice with clients, but also in propelling and bolstering their careers.

"Kaizen has two definitions," Maurer told me. "One is to take very small steps to achieve large goals; the other is to look at small details to learn large lessons . . ."

JERRY LAZAR: Let's start with goals. How should a mediator take the Kaizen path here?

ROBERT MAURER: The problem with big goals is that they send the person into fear, and fear diminishes creativity. Kaizen may sound simple and obvious, but it is usually forgotten by even the most seasoned negotiator. Under time pressure, which is part of all negotiations, the obvious need to start small -- building trust and building a process for problem solving -- can be quickly abandoned in the rush toward consensus. It takes faith, courage, and patience to assume the Tortoise approach to mediation is faster than the Hare approach.

JL: So make the intermediary goals smaller?

RM: Novelist Anne Lamott tells the story of her then 10-year-old brother who had a school report due on birds the following day. He had procrastinated for months. She writes: "He was at the kitchen table close to tears, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father put his arm around my brother's shoulder and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'" That's excellent advice for all of us.

JL: Take divorce mediation. The participants are overwhelmed by gargantuan changes in every aspect of their lives. That fear can translate to anger -- notably toward each other, because who else can they blame? So mediators need to hew especially close to the Kaizen path, breaking down each big decision -- like a comprehensive parenting plan -- into subsets of smaller, more easily digestable decisions. And take them slowly, one at a time.

RM: Getting the parties to acknowledge each other's small progress is also useful. By asking each party to state even ONE good point or ONE positive accomplishment of the other, they are better able to to keep the other person in perspective and not demonize them. They may need to be prodded to describe agreements they’ve made and kept over the years, since they are now focused in other areas.

JL: I agree that fear is a byproduct of most negotiations, especially divorce mediations -- fear of losing your money, your reputation, your house, your kids, your pride... Fear of the future...

RM: Kaizen was initially used by a business consultant to help Toyota build high-quality automobiles. Deming knew that fear is the enemy of creativity and wanted workers not to be afraid. There's an element of thinking of many businesses, that the way to motivate workers is through intimidation, and nothing can be further from truth. It's recently been reinforced and validated that people learn through small questions. Unlike a computer, the human brain can't reject a question, and if you ask the same question repeatedly, and if the question isn't big enough to scare you, then the brain will take it in and start popping out answers.

So at Toyota, they did not ask, "What are you going to do to make Toyota the greatest car company in the world?" Instead, they trained each worker to ask, "What small, trivial step can I take today that might improve the product or process?" On average, Japanese workers made 100 times more suggestions to their employers than the average American workers, who were conditioned to think in terms of big innovative changes.

JL: So the mediator has to direct his clients to ask these kinds of small questions. Not, "How am I going to divide all this community property?" Not, "What's wrong with her that she doesn't understand my 401K?" Not, "How come my neighbor got more spousal support than me?" or "What's wrong with my attorney?"

RM: The problem with those is that they're big enough to send the brain into fear--or anger, which is just a derivative of fear. So make your questions small: "Which parent is best able to take our son to baseball practice on Fridays?" And trust that the brain will start popping out answers. What you're trying to do in the creative process of mediation is not get in the brain's way. And lots of little answers lead to big answers.

If the mediation is grinding to a halt because the parties are overwhelmed by fear, Kaizen has the potential to conquer that underlying fear. Instead of saying, "How am I going to get this guy to agree to all her demands?," you tell yourself, "What one small detail can these two agree to?" As every mediator knows, sometimes one seemingly small thing will bring disputing parties one small step closer to resolution. We've all seen stalled negotiations go forward after a simple acknowledgement, or even a heartfelt "I'm sorry."

JL: What can a mediator’s clients learn from Kaizen?

RM: Kaizen is also applicable to the keeping of agreements. Such things as punctuality or returning phone calls in a timely manner --keeping even the "smallest" agreements -- are crucial, since what is "small" to one person, may not be to the other. How often have we heard this: "If I can't trust you to call me when you say you will, how can I trust you with our child or the finances?"

JL: How can Kaizen principles be used for successful career management?

RM: There are two common explanations for why professionals can get that first burst of success and then have trouble sustaining it. The most common one, in all walks of life, is that people presume that once you've succeeded that's all you need to do. They don't work each day to slowly, incrementally improve their craft and develop their artistry. But if you're not continually working at getting better at something, you're working at getting worse.

That's the first explanation of why people hit significant droughts that last for years, or a lifetime, after an initial success. The second reason is that some people have a problem with sabotaging success. At some level inside of them, they feel they don't deserve to succeed in life, and so they sabotage future efforts. They don't return phone calls, or they work on something and stop at the first sign that it's going to succeed. These are people who have what we call self-defeating personalities. They think, My god, how am I gonna top this? What am I gonna do that's bigger and better than this?

JL: Instead of that big success freeing them--I've crossed the finish line, I've proven I can mediate, I've proven I can be a commercial success -- instead they now figure, Nothing I do is good enough. In every field there is always someone doing better than you, so you can always be comparing yourself and be a disappointment to yourself because you're not more and better.

RM: Kaizen can free you, if you see this pattern, by asking, "What small things can I succeed at today?" It's almost like you're fooling the brain, like what happens in Alcoholics Anonymous. They don't declare that they want to stay sober for 20 years. What do they say? One day at a time. So you don't need to declare yourself a success forever; you just need to get through this minute, this hour, this day. This becomes your new definition of success. Am I making one phone call today to find new clients? Am I reading that new book about conflict resolution to see what new techniques I can learn today?

JL: There's a growing realization that mediation is more art than science. How can Kaizen help you find inspiration in your practice?

RM: Kaizen suggests that you're as likely to get your idea for your success from anywhere--every small moment is equal. You don't need to take only negotiation or dispute-resolution courses; you can take an art history course and be just as likely to get inspiration for your next mediation. Inspire means to breathe in.

When you look at the history of inspired people, you find that their ideas came from anywhere and everywhere. Most of the great psychological insights, most of the great understandings of human nature, didn't come from psychiatric literature. They came from Shakespeare; they came from Steinbeck and Dostoyevsky. These were the great sages of the world. If you see yourself as someone who's trying to understand human experience and resolve conflict, all of a sudden the world becomes your library.

You're not just reading trade journals, you're watching a Ralph's shopper cross a picket line and be confronted by a striking employee who he's jovially encountered every week at the cash register. Kaizen teaches us that no idea is intrinsically more valuable or interesting than another. Mediation is a creative process, and the best mediators are well-rounded versatile artists with a rich palette of resources.


At the end of the last day of Woody Mosten's exhausting and exhilirating 40-hour mediation training, he asked us to consider what "one thing" we would each do next Monday. He didn't ask what our game plan was, or to detail our goals and aspirations, or make a to-do list . That could overwhelm and paralyze us. Instead he wisely asked: What one small step could we take? And that's something every mediator should ask himself about his next strategy -- either in the heat of battle, or in pushing his career forward. It's something every disputant should ask himself in pursuing the path to peace.

What baby step will we implement?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mock-trials vs. Real Mediation

At my daughter's private high school, they proudly showed parents the new mock-courtroom they had built, so that students could conduct mock-trials of actual disputes. There was a jury box, an elevated judge's throne, even a big American flag.

The idea was that, when two students got into a tiff, they could present their "case" to a jury of their peers (i.e. other students), and each be represented by "legal counsel" (also other students), with all the protocols and adornments of modern-day justice. There would be a plaintiff and defendant, opening statements, testimony, cross-examination, closing statements, verdicts, jury polling, sentencing, the whole shebang. Just like on TV!

The school administrator who had assembled all this, and arranged for the fancy furniture construction (jury boxes are hard to come by at Ikea), was a law-school graduate herself. She was understandably proud of her achievement here. Students could learn a valuable lesson in participatory democracy, and sharpen their language and logic skills in the process.

"What about mediation?" I asked her. In addition to offering an opportunity for a make-believe trial, how about an opportunity for a real taste of alternative dispute resolution, where the students could verbally hash out their differences with the assitance of a team of trained student mediators? This could provide a valuable lesson in making peace, not war -- in collaboratively searching for forward-looking solutions instead of divisively dwelling on past problems -- and still encourage verbal articulation and analytical thinking.

The school administrator laughed at me. "I know what you're trying to do!" she said. "You mediators are always trying to do away with judges and juries. Nice try!" She thought I was trying to be funny. Actually, I was just trying to do away with lawyers.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Warning for Divorcing Parents

Don't let a judge raise your kids. He doesn't know them or love them like you do.

Let an experienced family mediator help you create your own successful parenting plan and find peaceful legal solutions to your family problems. It's much faster and cheaper than a typical courtroom custody battle. And it's better for your kids.

If you go to court to resolve your divorce and child-custody issues, it can cost you tens of thousands of dollars -- and you will all probably be unhappy with the results. If you mediate instead, you will make all the decisions yourselves -- for a fraction of the time, money, and heartache.

In family law, mediation is especially superior to conventional litigation. At a time in their lives when both parents need to come together and make important decisions for the sake of their kids, our current legal system is designed to drive a bigger wedge between the embattled parties.

Lawyers are advocates for their clients -- one for mom, one for dad -- and no one is really looking out for the unprotected kids, whose needs are the greatest of all.

Egos surpass rationality, tempers flare, and in the gladiator-like arena of the courtroom, everyone loses.

Because emotions run high in contested divorce situations, it's not difficult for lawyers to add fuel to the already raging conflagration. Meanwhile, the meter's ticking, and mom and dad are being pushed further apart, endangering the psychological well-being of their kids.

In short, a terrifyingly unhealthy scenario for the American family.

When Mom and Dad invest a relatively small amount of time and money into retaining a mediator to help them work out agreements themselves, and to prevent them from having to duke it out in the courtroom, then they are far better able to co-parent in a sane and safe environment.

As for the judges, they are more than happy to have you work things out with a mediator, since they really don't want the responsibility for raising kids who already have two parents! And of course it's those kids who benefit most of all.

Be smart! Save your money for your children's education!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

20 Things You Should Know About Mediation

  1. Mediation is a process by which a neutral third party - a mediator - acts to assist parties in reaching mutually acceptable and voluntary agreement with respect to matters in dispute.
  2. Mediation can resolve disputes quickly and satisfactorily, without the expense and delay of formal investigation and litigation.
  3. The mediator helps to identify issues, reduce obstacles to communication, explore settlement options, and foster joint problem solving. All decisions are made by the parties themselves in an environment where cooperation rather than conflict is encouraged.
  4. Representation by an attorney is permitted, but not required, in mediation. While mediators may not give legal advice or interpret the law, they will refer parties to impartial outside experts within the disability and legal communities when questions or issues needing clarification arise.
  5. Mediation is a forward looking process. It does not focus on the past nor does it seek to assess blame. The goal of mediation is to enable the parties to plan for and deal with their futures.
  6. Parties are more likely to comply with the terms of an agreement which they have fashioned themselves, rather than one imposed upon them by the court.
  7. Since mediation can generally be concluded in a limited time frame, there is less delay, confusion and uncertainty as to the outcome, and the emotional toll on the parties is greatly reduced.
  8. Mediation is informal, non-adversarial and, in order to promote candor, totally confidential. The mediator cannot be called as a witness in any court proceeding. Settlement proposals discussed during the course of mediation cannot be revealed in later court hearings.
  9. Since mediation is voluntary, a party who becomes dissatisfied with the mediation process can withdraw at any time. This insures that neither party can intimidate or exploit the other party or manipulate the process itself.
  10. A mediated agreement will generally cost a fraction of the cost of adversarial litigation in court.
  11. Mediation recognizes that both parties have legitimate needs and helps develop options that will successfully reconcile those needs to the satisfaction of both parties.
  12. Mediation is a process committed to self-determination. Its purpose is to promote identification of issues, explore alternatives for resolution and allow the settlement of issues by the parties themselves.
  13. Only after an agreement has been reached by the parties (and reviewed and approved by their respective attorneys, if desired) does the mediated agreement become final and binding.
  14. Through mediation the parties can make agreements with respect to matters over which the court has no jurisdiction. Matters which may be legally irrelevant in court may be considered and resolved by the parties.
  15. Through mediation, the parties can fashion creative solutions which can benefit both parties -- expanding the pie, rather than halving it.
  16. A mediated agreement will normally include a provision for mediation of disputes that arise in the future, including implementation and modification of the original agreement.
  17. Mediation helps improve communication between parties and thereby improves their future relationship.
  18. Mediation proceedings are confidential and voluntary for all parties. Mediation typically involves one or more meetings between the disputing parties and the mediator. It may also involve one or more confidential sessions between individual parties and the mediator.
  19. Mediation is neither therapy nor a "day in court." Rather, mediation should provide a safe environment for the parties to air their differences and reach a mutually agreeable resolution.
  20. Mediators are NOT judges. Their role is to manage the process through which parties resolve their conflict, not to decide how the conflict should be resolved. They do this by assuring the fairness of the mediation process, facilitating communication, and maintaining the balance of power between the parties.

Flip Chart Fundamentals

We usually associate flip charts with classroom or convention presentations, but their central purpose – to record and visually display information that will engage and stimulate audience participation -- is also ideal for mediation. Think about it. Robert Lucas, who is a professional “presenter,” says that flip charts are “the perfect medium for harnessing the collective brain power of a group.” He should know, since he’s literally written The Big Book of Flip Charts.

As visual aids, flip charts can’t be beat. They’re simple, inexpensive, low-tech, portable. They require no electrical outlets, batteries, or perplexing software. They can be easily and quickly prepared and produced, without the aid of expensive graphic artists or computer programmers. This alone is a comfort to the technophobes among us. A flip chart says, “Relax!” No need to be scared off by the notion of “interactive technology” when all that’s required is a big user-friendly pad of paper with colorful letters on it.


If you know how to use them intelligently, flip charts offer enormous psychological advantages for facilitating resolution between disputing parties.

Flip charts focus attention. Instead of disputing parties staring at their own individual documents on the table, they can simultaneously focus on a shared notepad.

Flip charts increase retention. It is said that we remember a quarter of what we hear, half of what we see, and two-thirds of what we hear AND see. Participants more easily remember concepts, ideas and key points that are written down or symbolized in pictures.

Flip charts provide a permanent record, which can be referred back to during every stage of mediation. For frustrated parties who feel no progress is being made, flip charts are tangible evidence to the contrary. It is a visual record of mutually generated ideas. Its lack of bias honors and respects all participants’ contributions.

Flip charts not only record and review ideas, but also pose questions, stimulate brainstorming, help make action plans, and document incremental steps toward solutions and consensus.

Unlike the legal briefs that may accompany litigants, flip charts focus less on past problems and more on future solutions. At the start, it’s a blank page, a clean slate. It says, “Our job is to start afresh and fill it in.”

Symbolically, a flip chart represents “shared interest and goals.” Because it belongs to all parties, it encourages constructive joint participation. It says, “Everybody owns this problem, and everyone will contribute to the solution.” In fact, you might try relinquishing the markers to the disputants.

“One of the key elements of androgogy [adult learning] is active involvement of the learners,” says Lucas. “There are two ways to involve your audience: solicit ideas and capture them on a flip chart yourself, or pass out markers and let participants do their own problem solving and writing. Take yourself out of the role of presenter or expert and move into new role of facilitator. This is less intimidating, since you build on the knowledge of the group, and avoid talking down to or controlling others.”

DOs & DON’Ts:

Use the most visible colors: black and blue. Red is the most appealing color, but it is best used as an accent color than as a primary color. Avoid brown, pink, yellow. Use two colors for variety, but don’t make the common mistake of using a separate color for each party – that only underscores differences at a time when you’re trying to portray shared concerns. So, your best color combos are: red/black, red/blue, or blue/black. Three colors are too confusing.

Write neatly, in uppercase block letters. Use keywords, abbreviations.

For lists, use bulletpoints (asterisks, checkmarks, arrows), NOT numbers. Numbers can incorrectly (and detrimentally) be interpreted as ranking , rating, or weighing ideas or priorities. Sometimes you can make a stack of bulletpoints first, with items to be filled in by participants – challenging them to wring out more ideas: “Good. What else?”

Encourage group ownership of the process. Don’t draw a vertical line down the middle of the page, demonstrating opposing positions. That’s like using a different color for each participant – it only helps them become more entrenched, and focused on arguing the merits of their individual perspectives, as opposed to stimulating collective “groupthink.”

Tear off and tape each finished page to the wall, for easy reference – and to enable participants to be enveloped by their own forward progress.

Stuck? Write open-ended questions at the top of a page, and let participants take turns filling in answers. Keep the gray matter spinning. Request specificity, concrete ideas. The mere act of writing down a solution for common viewing enhances personal accountability.

To stimulate brainstorming, remind everyone that the flip chart is a work in progress, not a final document. Proposing a solution is not necessarily agreeing to it.

Use flip charts to record action steps – who will do what and when? Assign accountability for small tasks between sessions.

Use pictures. You don’t have to be Van Gogh – doodles are fine. Again, creating and viewing graphics engages the brain in the creative process – and can even “lighten up” a tense atmosphere.


Flip Charts : How to Draw Them and How to Use Them,
Richard C. Brandt (Jossey-Bass, 1986; 88 pages)

Flip Chart Power: Secrets of the Masters,
Bonnie E. Burn (Jossey-Bass, 1996; 134 pp.)

The Big Book of Flip Charts,
Robert William Lucas (McGraw Hill, 2000; 258pp)

Don't Let The Gray Hair Fool You

A good mediator asks fact-finding questions, but not in the same spirit as a cross-examining attorney or judge. The goal is not to assign blame nor to catch people in inconsistencies nor to determine who is right or wrong or who has the stronger or more compelling argument.

As I tell my mediation clients upfront: “Don’t let the gray hair fool you. I’m not a wise man. I’m here to help you find the wisdom within YOU. When it comes to YOUR fight, you each have more knowledge and intelligence than I ever will. YOU are the ones who have to live with the outcome, not me, and so YOU will decide your own fate.”

My job is to help them explore common ground – shared interests and concerns that can result in collaboratively produced and mutually satisfying resolutions. I may be neutral but I am not impartial, I explain, because I advocate for both people – or, more accurately, I help them advocate for themselves and for each other.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tell It To The Judge?

One major obstacle to mediation is the concern that self-tailored resolutions won’t be “legally binding,” coupled with the usually unfounded fear that the other person will ignore or violate the resulting non-judicial agreement.

To these worriers, I offer the paradoxical fact that people are more likely to honor and abide by decisions of their own making than by those imposed upon them by an authority figure like a judge.

The other common obstacle in getting people to mediate is that they both desperately want to "tell it to the judge," a holdover from the childhood threat of "telling Mom" or "telling the teacher," the difference being that the judge really doesn't care about you!

Judges are busy, and besides, they've heard it all before. Your sob story may be terribly compelling to you, but it's old news to them, and they've got plenty more stories where yours came from -- there aren't enough ears in the entire judicial system to hear even a fraction of them.

Still, fueled by the popularity of courtroom "reality shows," disputants fantasize that a stern authority figure will sympathize with their suffering and wag a scolding finger at their nemesis -- which is as unlikely a scenario as you're likely to see in a real-life courthouse. As far as judges are concerned, you're both wrong for wasting their precious time -- and their job is to somehow sort out and throw a bone to whoever's less wrong, and get rid of both of you as quickly as possible.

Besides, the judge doesn’t know you, doesn’t share your depth of passion in your situation, doesn’t have the time or inclination to explore avenues of resolution. His primary goal is not “justice,” but rather to clear the cumbersome docket, quickly and efficiently, with what usually amounts to snap judgments, with predictably unsatisfying outcomes.

As a homework exercise, I send doubters to the courthouse and instruct them to wait in the corridor outside any courtroom and ask the emerging parties, “Who won?” … and count how few people raise their hand.

Bottom line: if you really want to be heard, if you really want your thoughts and opinions and feelings to matter, if you want to shape your destiny and not put it in the hands of an uncaring stranger, then do yourself a favor and see a mediator, not a judge.

Mediate, Don't Litigate

More people are learning to MEDIATE rather than LITIGATE. Why? It's much faster and cheaper. In this age of budget cuts, courtrooms are overloaded with complex cases that judges simply do not have time to consider. So, rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars to pursue lawsuits that can drag on for years, you can hire a mediator to help resolve your issues, usually in a few weeks, for a fraction of the cost.

Here's the best part: Instead of relying on a judge to issue a final decision that will make everyone sad and poorer, disputants or adversaries can count on a mediator to help them reach an amicable solution and agreement OF THEIR OWN MAKING, which guarantees that it will be much easier for everyone to live with.

Mediation is ideal for those caught in any conflict or disagreement -- whether it's a dispute between landlord/tenant, neighbor/neighbor, merchant/consumer, employer/employee, business partners, family members, or a disagreement over a contract. Issues can pertain to all fields, from real estate and insurance to personal injury and the entertainment industry.

It's not that lawyers are "bad," it's just that they are trained to do their client's bidding, and are being paid top dollar to "come out on top" and prevail at all costs. They are not schooled or professionally inclined to pursue win/win strategies, or solutions that are in the collective best interest. Instead, their reputations rise or fall depending on how effectively they battle the opposing party into submission, and declare victory.

Mediators take a different approach. They are trained and conditioned to seek peaceful forward-looking solutions that everyone can live with. They know that the value of healing far exceeds the price of protracted war and the longterm suffering that results from the pursuit of a one-sided "victory."

Alternative Dispute Resolution

This blog is about how to resolve disagreements peacefully so that both people are reasonably happy with the result, without harming or suing each other. The fancy phrase for this is “alternative dispute resolution.” It doesn’t involve the planet’s two most prevalent ways to settle disputes: violence and litigation. Instead, nobody gets hurt; nobody loses. It does require the disputants themselves to use their own ingenuity and resources to arrive at a solution, and not transfer their power to an authority figure (such as a cop or a judge) to govern their lives for them. The person who helps facilitate this process, enabling warriors to satisfactorily achieve peace without imposing his or her own will on the proceedings, is a neutral third party called a “mediator.”

Unfortunately, we live in a time and place where the first resort of bickering neighbors is to recruit surrogate pugilists and gladiators – threatening to “call the cops” or “tell it to the judge” – rather than work out differences in a sane, non-violent, productive manner. We impulsively retain lawyers, who are trained to zealously advocate for their client, right or wrong, with one goal in mind: to win. The legal arena encourages harassment, bullying, intimidation, threats, and countless maneuvers that are deliberately designed to fan the flames and prolong the conflict (thus escalating the number of billable hours).

Paradoxically, few would reflexively hire a mediator to sort out differences and seek a forward-looking, mutually viable solution – despite the fact that mediation consumes a fraction of the time and cost (not to mention mental anguish and uncertainty) of traditional litigation.

Fighting is a necessary and useful component of real life; differences of opinion are a good thing. So the primary goal of this blog is to teach a new generation how to engage in battle constructively, not destructively. In short, how to fight nicely.