Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Apologies vs. Actions

According to this LifeWire report, for many people, a promise never to repeat the offense often constitutes the most important aspect of an apology.

Nick Smith, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of New Hampshire and author of "I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies," adds:

"The ultimate meaning of apologies, like the meaning of promises, depends on future behavior, and therefore we cannot conclusively judge them at the moment they are spoken."

Playing the blame game or not owning up to one's mistakes are the worst ways to apologize, Smith says. Phrases like "I am sorry that X bothers you" and "I am sorry you feel that way" won't win you any points in the forgiveness department.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Food Fight

Conflicts between hip new bars and restaurants, and the neighborhood residents who have to endure their late-night noise and traffic, are all too common. Such has been the case for the past four years with Lola, a soul-food restaurant in Manhattan's SoHo district, now in jeopardy of losing its liquor license because of disgruntled neighbors.

Props to community newspaper The Villager for investigating the situation, and finding that, in a classic breakdown of communications, all parties were misinterpreting the actions and intentions of the other. And for wisely recommending professional mediation to resolve all issues.

Initially, residents circulated a flier warning Lola would cause “diminishing property values,” “sleepless nights,” “increased traffic,” “increased tourism,” “more dirt” and “more crime.” Fearing the worst, Lola’s owners felt the opposition was at least partly racially motivated. But it seems to us the resistance was more about quality of life in a neighborhood become chronically oversaturated with nightlife businesses.

Lola is a high-end establishment that will offer quality soul, R&B and gospel music ... This is a classy place. We’re sure neighbors will thoroughly enjoy the whole experience of both Lola’s cuisine and its wonderful music.

Yet, it’s also clear that neighbors’ quality of life and right to enjoy being in their own apartments in the evenings is utterly nonnegotiable.

The two sides might have to meet halfway. We feel confident this dispute can be worked out, and that sweet music will someday play at Lola — for all to enjoy.

Conflict Coaching

Illuminating discussion, on a blog devoted to anger management control, of one-on-one "conflict coaching," a service that can prove to be especially useful pre- and post-mediation.

Unlike mediators, conflict coaches deal with only one of the parties -- so, ideally, each mediation participant would have his or her own coach.
Conflict coaching is a one on one voluntary and confidential process that combines ADR and coaching principles. It is at its very essence, an individualized method for helping people effectively engage in conflict.

A few basic similarities between the fields of ADR and coaching, include the basic premises of self-determination and confidentiality. While some of the techniques and practitioner’s skills are similar, there are some major differences.

An important distinction is that the goals of those who participate in conflict coaching may not only be about resolving conflict. Rather, individuals seeking coaching (referred to as coachees in this presentation), may want to work on ways to prevent a dispute from unnecessarily escalating, to improve their competency in conflict management, to develop stronger communication skills for a difficult conversation and other objectives, that are often more about managing, than resolving.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

You are the 'Me' in Mediation

As you know, I love when the mainstream media stumbles wide-eyed upon this wondrous peacemaking process called mediation. The Ventura County Star's Cynthia Overweg did an excellent job of reporting on the Ventura Center for Dispute Settlement, a nonprofit, countywide organization based in Camarillo, run by my former SCMA colleague, Sandra Rubio.

Go read her colorful accounts of successful mediations yourself. I think my favorite quote is from a mediator, describing how -- in contrast to a courtroom, where decisions are made for you by a total stranger, and you are forced to live with the outcome even if you hate it -- the voluntary, self-determined mediation process puts participants in the driver's seat:

"You are the 'me' in mediation," he tells prospective participants . "You can control the ride. So how many want to take a test drive?"

You'd be a fool to say no.

Divorce Mediation Trumps Divorce Litigation

The Wall Street Journal celebrates the advantages of mediated divorces over litigated divorces, especially when children are involved, citing several notable studies:
Constance Ahrons's 20-year look at 173 children from 98 divorced families showed
that when divorced parents were able to maintain a civil and at least minimally
cooperative relationship with each other, the children experienced no long-term
problems associated with the divorce. But when parents remained in conflict or
totally disengaged from each other, their children continued to be distressed
even 20 years later.

And this:
In a 12-year follow-up of couples randomly assigned to either mediation or litigated divorce little as five to six hours of mediation had powerful long-term effects. Parents who took part in mediation settled their disputes in half the time of parents who used litigation, and they were much more likely, even 12 years later, to jointly discuss children's discipline, moral training, school performance and vacation plans. Nonresidential parents with mediated divorces maintained much more contact with their children than those who had litigated.

Dollars and sense:
The average cost of a mediated divorce is less than $7,000 ... and about $78,000 for a fully litigated divorce.

And it's not just the financial toll. When a parent maximizes his or her emotional position by undermining a child's respect for the other parent, this "victory" carries long-term costs.

Researcher Paul Amato notes that children who report being put in the middle of their parents' problems are less likely to be close to either parent as they age.

Cooperative divorces deny clients the short-range satisfaction of "beating" their exes, and they deprive attorneys of a lucrative source of income. But the benefits clearly outweigh these costs.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Take Me Out of the Ballgame

Last night Obama claimed victory with high-minded grace, while Clinton was again equivocating and dissembling when she should have been conceding. Obama's message was inclusive -- complimenting his opponent, and seeking common ground on which the party could march forward.

Around the time this was happening, I was at a Dodgers game with my son, where he was treated to his first pile-on brawl. I remember the first time I had witnessed this up-close, and marveled not only at the insanity of it, but also at the bloodlust it brought out in fans.

In this particular instance, it started as a shoving match between a catcher and an opposing batter. Then one took a swing at the other, clearing (in rapid sequence) the benches, the dugout, the outfield. Players from both teams swarmed toward homeplate to dive onto the sea of squirming uniforms. Eventually teammates pulled each other off the ridiculous heap, the original two combatants were tossed out of the game (and probably fined), the field was cleared, and eventually the game resumed.

Meanwhile, fans were cheering, hooting, hollering, hissing -- in short, gleefully going nuts. They loved it! I'm embarassed to report that my son was among those celebrants.

It had nothing and everything to do with baseball. After the game, sportscasters commented on how the violent display proved that the teams still had spark and energy -- ostensibly a favorable sign.

Driving home, I imagined Obama and Clinton as opposing ballplayers, and amused myself with trying to envision how they would behave in such a situation. I also imagined myself, standing in the outfield and witnessing my teammates and their rivals charging full-speed toward the mayhem so they could get a piece of the action. I'd like to think I wouldn't have any part of this nonsense -- even if it meant that I'd be the cheese standing alone. I could easily see feisty Hillary coming out swinging. But then I envisioned Obama serenely maintaining his stance on third base, calmly rising above the fray, the consummate peacemaker bemusedly shaking his head as he marveled at the "silly season."

Did you see his speech last night? Whether he came to bury or to praise, he did it with his typical eloquence and genuine class, the likes of which we rarely see these days.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign. She has made history not just because she's a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she's a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight. I congratulate her on her victory in South Dakota and I congratulate her on the race she has run throughout this contest.

We've certainly had our differences over the last 16 months. But as someone who's shared a stage with her many times, I can tell you that what gets Hillary Clinton up in the morning -- even in the face of tough odds -- is exactly what sent her and Bill Clinton to sign up for their first campaign in Texas all those years ago; what sent her to work at the Children's Defense Fund and made her fight for health care as first lady; what led her to the United States Senate and fueled her barrier-breaking campaign for the presidency -- an unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult the fight may be. And you can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country -- and we will win that fight -- she will be central to that victory. When we transform our energy policy and lift our children out of poverty, it will be because she worked to help make it happen. Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Kinda makes you proud, after a long dry spell, to again be able to say: Only in America!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Peer Mediation

Heartwarming video story about my former employer, L.A. County Bar Association's Dispute Resolution Services, and their peer mediation program. The problem is that the meritorious program is in only a few schools, when it should be in ALL of them! The funds allow for only a couple of on-site trainers, when there should be an army of them. This is our best hope for teaching peace to the next generation. This program has been around for 20 years now, with outstanding results, and yet instead of growing, its budget keeps getting slashed. Very dispiriting, especially as campuses become increasingly violent. Every lawyer in L.A. should be required to contribute $100 per year to keep this program alive and flourishing.

Verdict: Mediation Saves Time & Money

Nice to see the mainstream press stumble upon the concept of mediation. Someday mediation will be as commonplace as lawsuits, and hence not newsworthy, but until then we should be grateful whenever a reporter discovers its existence, marvels at its superiority to litigation, and shares those observations with readers.

Here's reporter Paula Schleis in the Akron Beacon Journal :

Look in the Akron Yellow Pages under ''attorneys'' and you'll find a section so thick it has its own color code.

Look under ''mediators'' and you'll find a grand total of six listings.

Read into that what you will, but it might explain why mediators scratch their heads and wonder why more folks drain their bank accounts chasing costly litigation when a thoughtful afternoon with a mediator might resolve their problem.

Great in-depth story follows, with lots of interviews and examples. Go read it!