Sunday, April 14, 2013

Every Disputant Deserves Respect and Empathy

I learned something travelling to Japan last month that I drew upon this week.  Their culture dictates that they bow in greeting one another.  Yes, families bow to one another, employees to one another, employees to customers, business to business, men to women, young to old.  Without even the first meeting, the Japanese greet strangers with a polite and deferential bow.  This evokes a bow in exchange, and sometimes it ricochets into escalating bows until the doors are closed or the elevator has left the floor!

This week I presided as an Arbitrator in a highly contentious hearing.  After handling the matter for almost 1 1/2 years, I had never met the principals, only their attorneys.  My job was to take the process back so that leaving the hearing on Friday afternoon, the parties (and their counsel) felt respected and felt that they had gotten what they had bargained for:  an empathic neutral who listened carefully to all of the evidence, weighed and measured it fairly and delivered a respectful result based upon all of the proof and legal arguments presented.  The Court reporter marveled at how "cool" and polite I remained throughout the hearing when tempers and frustrations flared.  The practice of deliberate deferential-ism through bowing upon greeting, seems to be a cultural acceptance that every person deserves respect.  By summoning my own humility and humanity, these parties, who were embroiled in a long, expensive and sometimes painful legal dispute can finally feel fully heard and gratified that the process of Arbitration in this instance fairly served them.  Though I didn't bow, I held on to the lessons from my visit to Japan in giving every deference to the parties to put on a legal case efficiently, completely and fairly. 

The parties before us in mediation or arbitration deserve no less.