Advice for a New Decade/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

In Stephen Covey’s work, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, he lists this as Habit #3:

“Broken focus is the number one reason people fail. It’s not enough to start off on the right track; you must successfully avoid the unnecessary distractions and attractions of life that aim to sidetrack you… The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Mr. Covey did not write Habit#3 with mediation in mind. But for those who enter into a mediator, or who guide its process,it is crucial to “keep the main thing the main thing”. Good advice for the new decade and all those that follow.

Self-Respect/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

The pugilistic US Representative (R-Ohio) does not wear a jacket to public hearings. When asked if he ever wears a jacket, he said that when he needs to show respect (e.g. a visit to meet President Trump) he does wear one. By implication, this means that being invited to attend the Impeachment Hearing is not sufficient reason to show respect. A possible slight to his colleagues and/or to the American people? Judge for yourself.

It is difficult when sparring with an adversary, during a mediation session, to show civility and even respect. But at what price? Being ornery is a self-defeating stance. If you have self-respect, you can manifest this by showing respect to others. This applies equally to those with whom you disagree. Is wearing a jacket while representing the good people from the Buckeye state really too much of a sacrifice? Civility is always in fashion.

Mediate don’t litigate.

Divorce is Not a Transaction/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

The current movie about divorce is named “Marriage Story”. This represents an irony. A further complication is that the movie has no winners nor losers; there is likewise no hero and no villain. In this manner, the movie is like many divorces. No one truly comes out ahead. However, Alan Alda’s role as a divorce attorney points out a basic truism. To many attorneys a divorce is simply another transaction that must be managed. The Alda attorney prefers to view the players in the divorce scenario as “people”. This is not poetry in motion, but it is a truism. Mediation helps the parties re-gain a sense of their humanity and decency. Litigation is not geared to such an outcome. litigation can be said to view the drama as another transaction. Mediation remembers that there are people involved and people affected by the divorce activity. Mediate don’t litigate is more than a pithy catch-phrase. It is the (only) way to ensure that people going through marital dissolution are always viewed as people in need of proper treatment. It may not make for great poetry but it is often the best result that can be effected by divorce professionals. Civil divorce is possible. Mediation makes that happen with great success. Mediation is worth a dedicated try for that very reason.

Children in Divorce/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

The successful author, Jane Green explained why mediation made sense for her in her divorce action in a brief 50 words:
“I am divorced, and one of the things I am tremendously grateful for is that my ex-husband and I made a decision to go through mediation. I knew a trial would drag on for years, would cost me everything, but worse, would be devastating for our four small children.”

Mediate don’t litigate. Especially if you have children.

Mea Culpa/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

Many commentators have opined that the failure of President Nixon to admit the errors of his ways, led to his vacating the office. President Trump too has an inability to admit to wrongful acts. This likely underlies his Impeachment Hearing. In a mediation, feel free to acknowledge mistakes and to engage in apologetic words, if called for. It is refreshing for people to take such an adult path. It often is the best way to resolve longstanding disputes. It is well worth the effort. To err is human, but to take responsibility for this is Divine. Mediate don’t litigate.

Listening for Meaning/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

There has been much speculation about the Trump letter to Erdogan that was devoid of ant political nicety. In effect it said, “Don’t invade Syria or you will be deemed a fool”. What was the thought process of our President? Some have suggested that the president works with “mirror image” thinking. If I think this way, then surely the Erdogan thought process is similar.

In mediations or negotiations, we assume that certain behavior from our opposing number is based on reasons that are clear to us. But perhaps we are wrong? A better way of proceeding is to listen carefully to what the parties say and how they say it. If that gives us no clue, why not be direct? For example, you might say “I believe you have done X for reason Y. If that is not so, please correct me.” It is worth a try and it certainly beats “mirror image” thinking. Mediate don’t litigate.

Beyond Hatred/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

The online version of The Atlantic magazine (October 2019)has a good read on General James Mattis, entitled “The Man Who Couldn’t Take it Anymore” by Jeffrey Goldberg. The follow snippet is insightful to all who practice mediation. “‘ General Mattis quotes President Lincoln’s famous phrase “With malice toward none, with charity for all”. The General then sums up the impact of the statement in just a few words: “Lincoln said that in the middle of a war. In the middle of a war. He could see beyond the hatred of the moment.”

Many disputes such as divorce disputes, family disputes, etc. can easily contain toxic issues and conversation. But families need to get back together again and divorcing couples with children need to co-parent once again. How does one put the rancor of the immediate challenge. “See beyond the hatred of the moment.” There is no choice nor alternative. Negativity carried to the extreme can destroy people. Futures can be ruined. What is the solution. “See beyond the hatred of the moment”. Mediate don’t litigate.

Fake Weather?/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

By now most everyone knows about Pres. Trump warning that Hurricane Dorian was heading towards Alabama. The only problem was that it wasn’t doing that. The president then produced an altered weather map to prove his “point”. On this miscue, Chris Cillizza of cnn.com posted (September 5, 2019) “Donald Trump’s Alabama Obsession Reveals a Very Deep Flaw”. The flaw dealt with honesty and integrity. “Trump is so obsessed with being right…that he blocks out any and all other responsibilities or duties as President to pursue that goal.” Does that sound like anyone you know. Ever see someone involved in a dispute with an opponent? They can only see truth from their own side. To be successful at that, they often need to block out all other responsible and meaningful scenarios. Truth becomes a victim. Is it not possible that some truth resides with the other party as well? The answer is surely in the affirmative. If you want to try to find out how that may be possible, try to attain Win-Win. Litigation will not get you there. Mediate don’t litigate. For those who pursue truth, this is the only path one can choose, weather map or not.

Winners and Losers/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

Konrad Adenauer was the first Chancellor of what became West Germany. In his long life, Adenauer’s commitment to Germany as a statesman, led to much acclaim. In a public television poll in in 2003, Mr. Adenauer was selected as the greatest German of all time. He was famous for this one quote “We all live under the same sky, but we don’t have the same horizon.”

Why is this mediation post discussing Konrad Adenauer? The answer lies in a column written for the WSJ by Walter Russell Mead on May 21, 2019. (“Palestinians Need to Get Real About Israel”.) Mr. Mead maintains that perhaps it is not a two-State solution that Israel and the Palestinians need but rather a “one state solution”. The author then makes this assertion about the Palestinians:”They need a Konrad Adenauer: a leader who can accept military defeat and painful territorial losses while building a prosperous future through reconciliation with the victors.”

WWhether one agrees with Mr. Mead or not, his statement packs a punch in the context of dispute resolution. We do not always emerge from “battle” with victory. At times, our losses are painful. But to overcome defeat, we must first learn to deal with it. I recently saw a quote to the effect that if we seek to destroy our adversary and attain revenge, we need to dig two graves rather than one. There are losses in life and losses at the bargaining table. At times the justice we crave nevertheless eludes us. Reconciliation with our opponent is not always a possibility. But perhaps in the course of the mediation process we can learn to accept what has befallen us and then make the effort to overcome and move on. Who wants to dig a grave for themself?

Mediation and Moccasins/Martin Rosenfeld,JD

A dispute has more than one side. It is easier to resolve a dispute if both parties are also willing to view it from the other party’s side. There is an expression that advises us to “never judge a man until you walk a mile in his moccasins”. By viewing the other person’s perspective, you get them to feel heard and respected. You also create a motivation for the parties to seek a proper solution. A question a creative mediator might want to ask is this: “How would you react if you were in their shoes (or moccasins)?” Ultimate truth lies on a continuum. It is rarely found at either pole. Be open to other points of view, other feelings, and other needs. The walk in the moccasins of your opposing party might just get you to Win-Win.