Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dancing on One Foot: The Dynamics of Negotiation

There is a certain rhythm that develops with every negotiation.  Sometimes, for example, I find myself physically "leaning in" towards the party with whom I'm working.  Sometimes, when I think I need a position of authority, I stand as I enter a room, whereas at other times I invite the parties to sit alongside me, suggesting by my position that "this may take awhile".  Even the parlaying of offers and counter-offers can be fast or slow, laced with a lengthy explanation or just conveyed through numbers.
Some of you may know that a couple of weeks ago I stumbled and broke my right foot.  This meant that the last 4 mediations which I have conducted have been completely different than any that have preceded them.  Unable to walk or stand on two legs, I have stayed seated, at the head of a conference table and invited the parties to come back and forth to me for every discussion. I have spent four full days with this new experiment and here are my reflections.
Last week, it was extremely difficult as I felt I had little control over the negotiations.  I was unable to casually enter either room or whisper my ideas in the hallways as I may have in a "normal mediation".   I was dependent upon other mediators to usher folks in and out or, in one case, asked the counsel to advise one another when it was "their turn".  But this week, assisted by a couple of well-trained Southern California Mediation Association's "mentees", my mediations went much more smoothly.  Now, when I stand in place (assisted with the walkers, crutch or mentee), the disputants know that I am "in command",  and when I wheel myself to their room for a final "closing" discussion on my new knee scooter, they are so appreciative of my effort that they listen attentively and are much more deferential than when my two legs dance over under ordinary circumstances.  I have learned to accommodate to the rhythm as necessary, and more importantly to stay in tune with the rhythm of the music in new and interesting ways.
I am sure there are many lessons which I will learn in this summer of non-weight bearing, but in the dance of negotiation, I have learned that it is possible to use the change in dynamics to effectively move the parties towards a resolution, even on one foot.
How do you use the physical movements in your mediation to achieve settlement?