The Power of Empathy

Why read about empathy when you can watch RSA Animate short clip below?

For those are not aware of RSA Animate, think TED Talks but drawings or animations instead.  The ones I have seen are good, really good. 

I frequently say during my trainings, workshops, and lectures that empathy is one of the most important words not only in conflict resolution but with life in general.  

Then, not only is it an important word, but the importance is pointless unless it is understood and practiced daily.  Empathy is a tool, when used genuinely, that can help conflict resolution professionals (mediators, negotiators, coaches, ombuds, etc.) be effective in assisting people that are involved in conflicts and disputes.

Remember empathy, as the video explains, is not the same as sympathy.

Instead of me writing more (I can do that in another post!), enjoy the short clip below:

read more "The Power of Empathy"

Listening, Empathizing & Building Rapport to Handle Crisis

Buying time is one of the most essential tasks of a crisis negotiator.

"In a crisis situation-where there is homicide, hostage taking or suicide-the suspect is generally not thinking rationally," Beatty said. "If you just keep a person from doing whatever it is they are intending long enough, they will calm down, think about it, and realize how bad of an idea it is to harm themselves or others." 

read more "Listening, Empathizing & Building Rapport to Handle Crisis"

Recommendations to develop International Commercial Mediation in Singapore

On 3 December 2013, Singapore’s Ministry of Law unveiled key initiatives to transform and develop its international commercial mediation sector. Based on recommendations of a Working Group established in April 2013 by Singapore’s Chief Justice and the Ministry, the recommendations include the establishment of two new independent mediation entities: a new professional mediation body (the “Singapore International Mediation Institute”), and a new international mediation service provider (the “Singapore International Mediation Centre”).

The Ministry of Law’s press release (below) and summary of recommendations are available on their website, at the following link:

1.            The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) welcomes recommendations made by the International Commercial Mediation Working Group (ICMWG) to develop Singapore into a centre for international commercial mediation.  This will add to Singapore’s vibrant dispute resolution sector that has been growing on the back of a significant rise in commercial transactions in Asia and the corresponding increase in the number and complexity of cross-border disputes.

Recommendations by the International Commercial Mediation Working Group

2.            The ICMWG submitted its recommendations on 29 November 2013.  The recommendations include:

               a)    Quality Standards – Establish a professional body to set standards and provide accreditation for                      mediators;

               b)    International Mediation Services – Establish an international mediation service provider which will                      offer as part of its service offerings, a quality panel of international mediators and experts, as well as                        user-centric innovative products and services;

               c)    Legislative Framework – Enact a Mediation Act to strengthen the framework for mediation in                            Singapore;

               d)    Exemptions and Incentives – Extend existing tax exemptions and incentives applicable for                                arbitration, to mediation; and

               e)    Judicial Support – Enhance rules and Court processes to encourage greater use of mediation.

3.            Co-Chair of the ICMWG, Mr Edwin Glasgow QC said, “With its excellent legal system, infrastructure, connectivity and geographical location, Singapore is ideally placed to be the centre of excellence for international commercial mediation.  The feedback we have already received from international players and corporate users has been extremely positive. I hope and believe that the Working Group’s recommendations will help Singapore to acquire in respect of international commercial mediation, the reputation which it already unquestionably enjoys in the equally important field of arbitration.”

4.            Co-Chair Mr George Lim SC said, “By building up Singapore’s mediation capabilities and expertise, particularly to deal with international commercial disputes, commercial users will be able to choose from a full spectrum of dispute resolution services, ranging from facilitative mediation to binding arbitration.  This will enable users to tap on the dispute resolution process that best addresses their specific needs.  I believe that mediation, where successful, can help commercial parties save considerable time, costs and achieve flexible, mutually acceptable solutions to otherwise seemingly intractable disputes.”

5.            The Chief Justice and Minister for Law have expressed their appreciation to the Working Group for the work and effort put into this review.  MinLaw will follow up with the relevant stakeholders to see how the various recommendations can be implemented.  A summary of the ICMWG’s recommendations is at Annex A.


6.            In April 2013, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and the Ministry of Law appointed Mr Edwin Glasgow CBE QC and Mr George Lim SC to co-chair a nine-member working group to propose plans to develop the international commercial mediation space in Singapore.  The group comprised international and local members to provide a wide range of expertise and views.
read more "Recommendations to develop International Commercial Mediation in Singapore"

Life Of An Australian Police Hostage Crisis Negotiator

Hello all, the following is well worth reading….

"All I wanted to do was jump" … ex-police negotiator Belinda Neil gained insight into her former role the hard way.Coaxing lives back from the edge and diffusing hostile situations are what police negotiators sign up for, but it can be almost impossible not to bring the job home. By Mark Whittaker  

Belinda Neil arrives at the house, pumped after a high-speed drive with lights and sirens in the rainy night. The tactical guys with their overalls and sub-machine guns are setting up a cordon as Neil and her fellow police negotiator get a quick briefing outside. A guy called Ivan, armed with knives, has his ex-girlfriend barricaded in a room. A uniformed constable is in there, too. He'd put his gun down and gone in unarmed, attempting to defuse the situation. It's not clear now if he is a hostage, too. Neil is handed a ballistic vest, but it is too heavy for her to put on, so two officers lift it on for her…

read more "Life Of An Australian Police Hostage Crisis Negotiator"

Four Questions To Ask Yourself Before Opening Your Mouth

I thought the following was a great reminder on our speech and the power of silence- especially as those engaging in conflict resolution.



by SHANE PARRISH on NOVEMBER 20, 2013 From
A friend passed along a copy of Yoga Wisdom at Work.
The book is a quick read. I took enough away from it to feel like it was time well spent.

One of the best parts of the book for me was on authentic conversations and the right speech.

Here are four questions to consider each time you speak.

1. Is it true?
2. Is it necessary?
3. Is it kind?
4. Does it improve upon the silence?These can be incorporated into the acronym THINK: True, Helpful, Improves upon the silence, Necessary, and Kind.

Read more [HERE]. 
read more "Four Questions To Ask Yourself Before Opening Your Mouth"

Social Media & Hostage Crisis Negotiation

ACR Crisis Negotiation Section co-chair Jeff Thompson, along with Lt. Mark Lowther, presented "Social Media & Hostage / Crisis Negotiation" at the annual Cyberweek conference.  Cyberweek is  a week-long series of webinars, discussion forums, radio shows, twitter chats, and more all concerning conflict resolution and technology.

read more "Social Media & Hostage Crisis Negotiation"

Active Listening Techniques of Hostage Crisis Negotiators

Active listening is arguably one of the most important set of skills a person must successfully employ while interacting with someone when there is something you are trying to achieve. This can include negotiating a contract, salary, sale or purchase of a house, or it can involve trying to resolve a dispute amongst friends or co-workers.

Research has consistently demonstrated active listening as being critical for communication and conflict resolution experts to successfully and peacefully resolve conflicts and disputes. This includes mediators and hostage and crisis negotiators. As you can imagine, their work entails a wide variety of situations ranging from noise disputes between neighbors to million dollar contract disputes and hostage incidents where lives are at risk.

Aside of containing by both verbal and nonverbal elements, it is not necessarily clear what exactly active listening is and what it consists of. This article sets out to clear the mystery and detail the individual parts that make up the “whole” of active listening while first explaining the value of active listening. 

Active listening is both informative and affective based. Active listening allows you to gain valuable information from the speaker (it let’s you know the “why” behind their positions or “wants”) and it develops rapport and builds trust (more on this below). Active listening entails just that,listening more than talking.

...Below are the seven techniques of active listening that are taught by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crisis Negotiation Unit (FBI CNU) to their special agents and other law enforcement officials from around the world.

Emotion Labeling: It is important for the emotions of the person speaking to be acknowledged. Identifying the person’s emotions validates what they are feeling instead of minimizing it. During a negotiation, people can act with their emotions and not from a more cognitiveperspective. By labeling and acknowledging their emotions, it helps restore the balance.

Read the full article [HERE]. 
read more "Active Listening Techniques of Hostage Crisis Negotiators"

Social Media & Hostage Crisis Negotiation

ACR Crisis Negotiation Section co-chair Jeff Thompson, along with Lt. Mark Lowther, presented "Social Media & Hostage / Crisis Negotiation" at the annual Cyberweek conference.  Cyberweek is  a week-long series of webinars, discussion forums, radio shows, twitter chats, and more all concerning conflict resolution and technology.

read more "Social Media & Hostage Crisis Negotiation"

Prezi Presentation: 10 Mistakes of Hostage & Crisis Negotiators

I recently gave a presentation at Columbia University Conference on 10 Mistakes Law Enforcement Hostage and Crisis Negotiators Have Made & How You Can Avoid Them.
Grounded in research, the presentation also offers methods these negotiators utilize to avoid the mistakes while I also offered examples on how everyone can apply them to their lives regardless of their profession.

Read the article [HERE].

See the presentation [HERE] or click below.


read more "Prezi Presentation: 10 Mistakes of Hostage & Crisis Negotiators"

4 Secrets For Winning The Toughest Negotiations

Originally posted at the Crisis Negotiator Blog

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson has quite the reputation for brokering deals with thugs. Here's how he does it.

read more "4 Secrets For Winning The Toughest Negotiations"

Body Language, Negotiation & Haggling

Picture: Andy Ward/from WSJ

(Originally version posted at
Of course nonverbal communication communication has a role in every interaction, we all know that, right?

Demetria Gallegos of the Wall Street Journal explores the "art" of haggling during a recent trip to a medieval fair.  She reflects on how due to a lack of haggling, her piece of the pie was smaller (yes- pun intended for those who get that joke).

While reading this article, it shows how we really are (or are not) negotiating numerous times on a daily basis.  Also, those that are good are able to pick up on subtle signs on when to press and when not to.  Often, those signs are displayed as nonverbal communication cues such closing body language, eye contact change, and hand gestures.

Enjoy this article in today's WSJ on the art of haggling.

Rosella says she occasionally deals with sellers who are "horribly offended" when she tries to bargain. She'll apologize. Her intent isn't to hurt their feelings, so she's mindful of her body language, making eye contact and conveying sincerity. She keeps the bidding light. "When you negotiate aggressively, you do put people on the spot," she says. "You almost shame them into giving it to you free."

She also says it's good to be knowledgeable about the value of the item. "When you get a fair price for yourself, that's where you stop," she says. "You don't have to take them to the mat and beat them up."
Read more: HERE
read more "Body Language, Negotiation & Haggling"

Insight From ACR Conference Presenters

"What's Happening?" Blog is a weekly round up of the all the ADR news, jobs, events and more.  Check it out each week and view past news [HERE]

ACR Annual Conference
Regardless if you are attending or not, have a look below to read about some of the interesting work of this year's presenters
For those attending the Conference, make sure to use the #ACR2013 tag on Facebook & Twitter

ODR: Online Dispute Resolution

  • By Colin Rule

Building Emotional Intelligence: A Grid For Practitioners

  • By Charlie Irvine & Michelle LeBaron

Assessing Conflict Behaviors and Hot Buttons – The Conflict Dynamics Profile

  • By Craig Runde

Trust Me or I’ll Kill You! What do Mediators mean by “Trust?”

  • By Madge Thorsen

Bringing it All Together: Bringing Your Mind, Body, Spirit, and Heart into the Session

  • By Dr. Rachel Goldberg

Waging Peace: A Post-Conflict Forgiveness and Reconciliation Model for Religious Conflicts

  • By Dr. Darrell Puls

Family Business Disputes- Expanding Your Mediation Practice

  • By Richard Lutringer

With Age Comes Wisdom

  • By Julie Denny

Effective Mediators & Nonverbal Communication

  • By Jeff Thompson

Stories Mediators Tell

  • By Glen Parker
read more "Insight From ACR Conference Presenters"

Build A Golden Bridge To Help Stop The Government Shutdown

Build a golden-what?

What does a bridge, no less a 'golden' one, have to do with mediation and negotiation? Well, the term is from William Ury's book, Getting Past No [here at Amazon and many others].

Building a golden bridge refers to making sure you have satisfied and overcome the the four common obstacles to an agreement: involving them in devising a solution, meeting unmet interests, helping them save face and finally making the process as simple and easy as possible.

There is much more to just making an attractive offer to the other party. If the above listed criteria are not satisfied, you might find yourself making what you think is the best offer for them, and then surprisingly they reject it.

As the current government shutdown continues down what is seemingly an intractable path, the following tips are all the more relevant.

1) Have everyone involved in building/writing the agreement

It is known that an agreement has a greater chance to be long lasting when the parties involved in the agreement also have input into what the agreement states. Even the best agreements can fail, or not even get finalized, if a party feels that they are being shut out. Simple ways to ensure everyone is involved is to ask them questions like, "what do you think?", "how do you see it?", "what should we do?"
Even if you are the one who suggested the idea earlier, do not take credit for it. You can say, "As we mentioned earlier," or to connect your comments with theirs, as Ury states, you can say something like, "Building on what you said earlier...".
Remember, keep focused on the goal- getting an agreement that will have you better off than your alternative. This is called your BATNA (use this acronym and impress your friends or fellow Congressmen- BATNA is Best Alternative to a Negotiated Aggreement).  So, if this means taking a bite of "humble pie" and letting the other side think they came up with the idea that is good- you not only built them a Golden Bridge, you also got what you wanted.
2) Look beyond the obvious interests (i.e. money) to include other, not-so-obvious interests

Read the rest of the article at HERE
read more "Build A Golden Bridge To Help Stop The Government Shutdown"

10 Mistakes Crisis & Hostage Negotiators Can Make (& How You Can Avoid Them)

Come join me!

AC4-Logo-(micro-100p-v3)“10 Mistakes Crisis & Hostage Negotiators Can Make (& How You Can Avoid Them)”

Facilitator: Jeff Thompson, Research Fellow, Columbia University Law School; PhD candidate, Griffith University Law School
read more "10 Mistakes Crisis & Hostage Negotiators Can Make (& How You Can Avoid Them)"

Active Listening Skills of Crisis & Hostage Negotiators

One of the most often cited skills necessary for crisis and hostage negotiators is comprehending and utilizing "active listening."  Interestingly, often I come across literature in conflict resolution that rarely explains specific components of active listening or two other critically important terms in conflict resolution- rapport and trust.

Crisis and hostage negotiation research however does provide specifics and often the case it is directly from the experts at the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Crisis Negotiation Unit (FBI/CNU).  They list seven components of active listening (read more here):

  1. Minimal Encouragement 
  2. Paraphrasing
  3. Emotional Labeling
  4. Mirroring
  5. Open-ended Questions
  6. "I" Messages
  7. Effective Pauses
A future article will explore each of the above more however in the meantime, retired FBI special agent Chris Voss shared recently with Eric Barker of (bookmark this site and visit it often- you'll thank me) the Behavioral Change Stairway Model which (BCSM) includes five steps to helping peacefully resolve crisis incidents that can also be applied to other negotiations that you might be involved in during the course of your professional life. 

As you can see, active listening is the first step.  I suggest you:
1) Read Barker's article [here]
2) click the first link to read more about active listening
3) check back here soon to read about both the BCSM and active listening

read more "Active Listening Skills of Crisis & Hostage Negotiators"

New School Year, New Research

As some people might know already, I am currently conducting research at Columbia University Law School as a Research Fellow for the 2013/14 academic year.  One of the core areas I am researching is Crisis and Hostage Negotiations.

Over the course of the year, I will share any valuable insights I get from research and those I find in other studies and articles.

One quick bit of information I will share already is the confusion of is it crisis negotiation or hostage negotiation... or both?  The quick answer (and I'll add more in a future article) is there has been a trend to move towards using the word "crisis" instead of "hostage."

The reason being, the law enforcement officials whose role includes that of a negotiator involves hostage situations only 4% percent of the time.  That means 96% of the incidents they respond to are crisis situations not involving a hostage being taken.

Looking forward to a productive school year!
read more "New School Year, New Research"

Hostage & Crisis Negotiators: Nonverbal Communication Basics

Learn the skills used by these expert negotiators and how it can help you.

Law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiators are world-renowned for their ability to apply expert conflict resolution and communication skills in situations that are tense,  (potentially) volatile, and where lives can be at risk. 

The negotiator's appearance matters.
Learning the skills that these professionals apply to their distinct negotiation setting is not only interesting but it can also help you.  Although their work is very different from yours most likely, the tools they use to effectively communicate and resolve a situation is still applicable to you and your work.

Nonverbal communication plays an important role during hostage and crisis situations involving law enforcement personnel.  Nonverbal communication is not limited to solely “body language” but rather includes a variety of other elements.  To raise awareness of the numerous nonverbal communication elements that are possibly present during an interaction, I created the METTA acronym (movement,environment, touch, tone, and appearance) during my doctoral research on nonverbal communication and mediators.
Below, I have applied the METTA acronym to the hostage and crisis negotiation setting offering an introductory look at how nonverbal communication can impact the negotiations while also offering insight to the skills used by these professionals. 
Movement.  Congruent body movement that is matching the words being spoken helps display genuine empathy while also contributes to developing rapport and building trust.  Even when communication signals are limited such as just talking via phone, it still plays an important role.  Think about the next time you are on the phone and notice how often you nod your head, use hand gestures, and use paralanguage such as “mmm” to express agreement or understanding. 

Read the rest of the article at [HERE].
read more "Hostage & Crisis Negotiators: Nonverbal Communication Basics"

Farah Pandith TEDx Boston Talk: "Dismantle" Hate With "Counter-Narratives"

Watch of this TEDx Boston event featuring peace and conflict resolution promoter, Farah Pandith.  She is also the first ever US Department of State Special Representative to Muslim Communities. She talks about the global Muslim youth community, perspectives, and particularly the diversity of what it means to be Muslim.
She mentions where do you young people (young Muslims in the examples she provides) go for answers? Often, it is the Internet and it provides an opportunity for extremists to provide guidance to these young people. Special Representative concludes however hope is not lost but rather building connections through communication helps "dismantle" hate and provide a "counter-narrative."  She adds some inspirational stories of how Muslim young adults are doing this across the globe.
Instead of me trying to provide any information or a recap, do yourself a favor and watch the video.  Not only the content is worth listening to but Special Representative Pandith is also a worthy presenter.

Want to read more about the work of Special Representation? Read this article on empathy [HERE]
Make sure to follow her on Twitter too: @Farah_Pandith
read more "Farah Pandith TEDx Boston Talk: "Dismantle" Hate With "Counter-Narratives""

Public Diplomacy's Role at Various Stages of Conflict Resolution

"...Public diplomacy is critical in extending civilian-military power. It combines soft and hard power to make the kind of “smart power” that is necessary to succeed." 
-Tara Sonenshine, U.S. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

The above quote is from Under Secretary Sonenshine's remarks she made recently and I think it resonates well with the work everyone does in conflict resolution- ranging from being a volunteer mediator to engaging in negotiations of seven-figure sum disputes or multi-nation treaties, and everything in between.

Photo of Tara Sonenshine
Tara Sonenshine, U.S. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Sonenshine's words also reiterates what her co-worker, U.S. Department of State's Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith (who happens to be giving the keynote at this year's ACR-GNY Conference later this week), states when she shares that her role and the U.S. Department of State as a whole is seeking to do when engaging others- change the narrative.  

This means working collaboratively to move from an "us and them" or even worse an "us versus them" perspective to creating a situation that does not always mean agreeing but rather communicating that creates understanding and mutual trust.  There is no wonder the word "empathy" constantly comes up and is pervasive (it is also comforting for lack of a better word) with the work of the State Department's employees- utilizing it demonstrates with those they engage that it is a genuine outreach looking to develop sustainable and meaningful relationships. 

It is also notable to look at the positions held by both Sonenshine and Pandith- they both have accomplished much in global diplomacy in their careers using these effective communication skills and currently have prestigious positions where they possess considerable influence. 

Have a read of Soneshine's remarks below and take a moment to reflect on how it applies to your practice as someone who engages conflict.

U.S. Department of State - Great SealPublic Diplomacy's Role at Various Stages of Conflict Resolution

Tara Sonenshine

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
The Stimson Center
Washington, DC
June 6, 2013

It is an honor and a pleasure to be here today, with a good friend and colleague, Ellen Laipson, who has done so much to advance international affairs, not only through The Stimson Center, but from the White House to the Foreign Policy Advisory Board to countless other boards. Thank you, Ellen, for your friendship and your contributions to American foreign policy and for this unique opportunity to talk about the civilian-military space and its relationship to public diplomacy.

This is not an easy subject but it is a timely subject, as you will soon hear about in the panel discussion later this morning. Russ Rumbaugh, who directs your Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense, will talk about the interaction between DOD and our civilian corps and Alison Giffen, who often collaborates with our own Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, will discuss ways we can enhance our civilian-military capabilities to support conflict resolution.

My thesis today is that public diplomacy is critical in extending civilian-military power. It combines soft and hard power to make the kind of “smart power” that is necessary to succeed. Public diplomacy is inextricably linked to key U.S. foreign policy goals of preventing deadly conflict, managing conflict when it occurs, and building civil societies out of the ashes of conflict.

Before I go any further, allow me just a bit of history.

At the State Department, I sit in the office once occupied by George Marshall—a man who understood a thing or two about strengthening our civilian-military continuum and about how to repurpose the aftermath of war into the new math of peace and prosperity.

The Marshall Plan set the precedent for a kind of transformative and collaborative capability. As former Secretary of State Clinton put it so well, and I quote, “The allies won the war with guts and valor, and the Marshall Plan won the peace with bricks and mortar.”

But the Marshall Plan went much further than bridges and buildings. It created an infrastructure for economic growth, which helped to create an alternative scenario to the biggest threat to our mutual freedom at the time: communism. The proof of success is in the story of the post-Marshall Plan era and how we, and our allies, came to choose paths that led to periods of peace and prosperity and alternatives to the communist system.

This theory of change that we can create alternatives to violence — that is the crux of the challenge of the military-civilian, civilian-military hyphen, in conflict prevention and post-conflict settings: How to create an alternative scenario to violence, destruction, division, hostility, and the danger of more deadly conflict.

It is also the challenge of public diplomacy—creating alternative scenarios using a variety of tools and approaches that have immediate and sometimes not so immediate impact.

Read the full remarks [here]
Read about Under Secretary Sonenshine [here]
read more "Public Diplomacy's Role at Various Stages of Conflict Resolution"

Ask U.S. State Dept.'s Special Rep. Farah Pandith

The Association for Conflict Resolution Greater New York Chapter is offering a special opportunity to ask a promoter of peace how she applies conflict resolution skills to the work she engages in on a global scale.  
U.S State Department Special Representative Farah Pandith will be the keynote speaker at ACRGNY's annual conference on June 20th at Cardozo Law School.  As part of her keynote address, she will allow a segment for questions that have been pre-submitted and selected by the conference committee.  
The ACGNY Conference Committee does not want to limit this great opportunity to just people attending the conference- we are expanding the opportunity to submit questions to everyone across the globe regardless if you are attending or not.
You have a variety of ways you can leave a question for Special Representative Pandith:
  • Post the question as a reply in this thread at
  • On Twitter, ask it and include the hashtag #ACRGNY
  • Email conference [at]

Regardless of the method you choose, make sure to:
  • Make sure your name and city is displayed
  • Your question is conflict resolution related 
  • It is related to the work she does 

We thank everyone in advance, and please know we will not be able to present all the questions as we will be limited in time.  
Thank you and help us spread the word about this great opportunity to engage and learn from a leader in our field.
NOTE: The last day to submit questions is 11:59 p.m. est on Friday, June 7th. 

Read more about Special Rep. Farah Pandith [HERE].
Learn more about this year's annual ACRGNY Conference [HERE].
read more "Ask U.S. State Dept.'s Special Rep. Farah Pandith"

Judging Others Even If You Don't Realize It

Mediation and nonverbal communication are two terms, and those who know me can vouch for it, that I have been using non-stop for the past two years as both are the core focus areas of my PhD research topic at Griffith University Law School
read more "Judging Others Even If You Don't Realize It"

Increasing Referrals to Small Claims Mediation Programs

Increasing Referrals to Small Claims Mediation Programs
Guest writer Heather Scheiwe Kulp, Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program at Harvard Law School 
She will be presenting at this year's annual ACR-GNY Conference June 20th [more here]
My favorite part of new mediator training is watching the attendees discover the potential value of mediation. They nod knowingly when they realize how brainstorming creative options based on parties’ real interests may change the dynamic of winner-takes-all, money-is-everything court battles.
Eager new mediators crave experience, not only for its own sake, but also so they can use their skills to serve people in conflict. One of the most common venues for new mediators to gain such experience is small claims court. Litigants, often without attorneys and seeking what the court deems as minimal claims, are referred to these mediators, given a certain period to resolve the dispute, then sent back to court for a trial if the dispute cannot be resolved in mediation.

Though the volume of these cases has grown larger with the recession, few studies have focused on understanding the process that encourages small claims cases to be referred to and settle in mediation. Perhaps this is because the court sees such claims as minimal (though the dispute and the money are significant to the parties). Perhaps it is because we often send our newest, likely unpaid, mediators into these settings. Yet, small claims mediation programs offer an insightful picture into court dispute systems design; how does a court manage the disputes of a significant number of litigants who seek access to justice in a system they don’t understand very well?
Click here to visit the Werner Institute Blog

To write this article, I examined publically-available statistics from at least one small claims mediation program in each of the 50 states. I also outlined how each of these programs referred cases into mediation. Categorizing similar types of referral systems, I developed six referral models:

  • ADR Required, Parties Choose Process
  • Mediation Ordered or Suggested at Filing, Parties Mediate Outside Court
  • Mediation Required, Must Occur at or Before Hearing
  • Mediation Ordered or Recommended by Court at Hearing
  • Mediation Suggested by Court, Parties Choose and Mediate Outside Court
  • Mediation Suggested by Court, Parties Choose and Mediate at Hearing

I then analyzed whether there were statistical patterns in each models’ representative programs. No “best” type of referral emerged. Certain models offer benefits to programs dedicated to providing greater access to mediation services for all small claims litigants. Other models offer benefits to programs that intend to send to mediation the cases most likely to settle. Still other models are most effective when all parts in a court system are dedicated to promoting mediation, no matter the outcome.

The models suggest common themes for providing greater access to justice. First, the earlier a referral is made, the greater likelihood the case will settle. “Early” can mean before a case is filed.  Second, basic education from an authority figure, like a judge, leads more litigants to try mediation. Education means more than telling litigants mediation is available; it involves explaining what mediation is and what some of its benefits may be. Third, mediators who are well-trained to mediate cases involving self-represented litigants increase litigant and judicial confidence in the process. Programs must publish more consistent and reliable data before further themes can be deduced.

Hopefully, this study prompts others to research how courts can design more effective mediation programs for small claims litigants, many of whom come to courts seeking access to problem-solving systems. In the ADR community, I hope our goal is to provide litigants and mediators alike with satisfying experiences.

Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program’s Clinical Fellow. Prior to joining HNMCP, Ms. Kulp was a Skadden Fellow with Resolution Systems Institute/The Center for Conflict Resolution in Chicago. There, she partnered with courts and government agencies to develop small claims, foreclosure, and other mediation programs for low-income litigants. She has consulted with multiple states, the Uniform Law Commission, and the Department of Justice about best practices in foreclosure mediation. Her work has been published by the American Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section, the Illinois State Bar Association, Wipf & Stock, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, ACResolution Magazine, Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, and the Arkansas Law Review (forthcoming Spring ’13). Ms. Kulp is a graduate of Northwestern University School of Law and Saint Olaf College. Prior to attending law school, she founded and directed a not-for-profit alternative magazine for young women, Alive Magazine.  
read more "Increasing Referrals to Small Claims Mediation Programs"

Empathy is the Secret Weapon

Empathy is the Secret Weapon

Having the ability to combat hate requires skills that are also necessary of mediators and other conflict professionals.  One such skill is empathy. It is important to note empathy does not require agreeing but more importantly it gives you insight as you move from the way you “see” things to “see” the situation or issue from a different perspective. 

Empathy is not just a powerful tool for mediators- it is being used with social media to inspire young people.
It is a bold task to attempt to fight hate with the tool empathy.
Hours Against Hate, started in 2010, is a project co-launched by U.S. Department of State Special Representative To Muslim Communities Farah Pandith, to inspire young people to combat hate based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, having a disability or being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or being transgender.

Having the ability to combat hate requires skills that are also necessary of mediators and other conflict professionals.  One such skill is empathy. It is important to note empathy is about understanding the perspective, emotions, and motivations of others.  It does not require agreeing but more importantly it gives you insight and understanding of others as you move from the way you “see” things to “see” the situation or issue from a different perspective.  Lack of empathy often can lead to misunderstanding, confusion, and even more unfortunately, violent conflict.
Read the rest of the article [HERE]
Special Representative Pandith is the 2013 keynote speaker at the annual ACR-GNY Annual Conference:
Follow Special Representative Pandith on twitter:

Hours Against Hate:

Visit the Hours Against Hate Facebook page:

Coca-Cola Journey: Taking Global Action To Fight Hate:
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Transparent Isn't Always Good, Mediators

To all of the mediators who believe in transparency, take a look at this short clip and let me know if being transparent is always good.  Enjoy  :)

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UN Mediation & Peacemaking

Did you know the UN has a site dedicated to peacemaking?
They also have a mediation response team always on standby ready and able to help when called upon.  
From the site:


Established in 2008, the Standby Team is a group of full-time mediation experts that can be rapidly deployed to provide technical advice to United Nation’s officials and others leading mediation and conflict prevention efforts. Team members possess expertise in a wide range of issues that tend to arise in negotiations including constitution-making, gender issues, natural resources, power-sharing, process design and security arrangements.

Read more about the team and more on the UN and peacemaking [HERE].

Read about "Guidance For Effective Mediation" [HERE].
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Seek First To Understand

Faris Alsalih, MS Candidate

Have a read of of the Werner Institute's latest blog post.  It is by MS Candidate, Firas Alsalih.  He shares his reflections on his first place finish the mediation contest and some tips for mediators based on his experience.

I am glad to see rapport is mentioned and even happier to hear his professor at the Werner Institute, John Ford, teaches it, and the importance of building it, in his course.

Here's a snippet:

We often talk about “intuitive” abilities, and I even recall writing once in one of our online posts for the MS NDR program at Creighton, that the more you learn, the better stocked your “intuitive arsenal” is.  I thus found myself applying skills that felt completely intuitive, although they are ones I only learned over the past 18 months, and were far from intuitive prior to entering the program.

...I also learned that as a general rule, the greatest contribution a mediator can make in resolving conflict is helping parties build rapport (thank you John Ford), and creating a safe, open and constructive environment where dialogue can take place, and where genuine rapport can indeed be built.

Read the entire post at the Werner Institute Blog [here].
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6 Negotiation Mistakes

Men's Health writer Kasey Panetta share's ten tips that according to a recent research study in the Journal in Experimental Social Psychology, you should avoid when negotiating.  

Have a look at each, and let me know what you think.  Click the link below for more on each and to read the full article:
  1. Faking anger in a negotiation only results in demands from your opponent, while genuine anger will get you concessions
  2. You’re way too literal about deadlines.
  3. You concentrate on what you want, not what they can give you.
  4. You push through, even when you need a break.
  5. You jump in before doing your homework.
  6. You have an “all or nothing” mentality.
Reviewing each of the above, they do not seem all to absurd or far off- if anything they could be easily described as obvious.  Even if you think this is the case, at least now there is research grounding what often seems to be comments backed only by anecdotal stories or saying "I heard from many others."

This type of research I think is what we need more of in our field- not taking many skills for being obvious but rather testing these assumptions and seeing how they play out in a study.  I see it as a convergence of the "art" and "science."  I look forward to reading the full article in the journal.

Read the article [HERE]

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