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University of California
Helping Others Resolve Conflicts: Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800


Fighting Words: How Did We Get Here?
Two grown men appear to be conversing normally but suddenly
break into a fight. The taller one hits the other twice, hard. The shorter
of the two is now bleeding out of the side of his mouth. They exchange
further insults and the taller man walks away only to come back an
instant later. He creeps up on the shorter man, and again whacks him a
couple of punches and then leaves satisfied.
These men knew each other, and something was eating at them.
Despite the apparent calm before the physical attack, their anger had
boiled much earlier. Why did this disagreement turn into an act of
violence? Why was the taller man compelled to come back and hit his
acquaintance again? Many of us have observed, read, or heard of
situations worse than this. The world around us can sometimes erupt
into violence.
Good people sometimes do and say things they later regret. Recently,
I spoke to an individual who hungered for a kind word from his wife,
but yet refused to take the initiative in saying something nice to her. One
could read the pain in his eyes. Another person took offense where none
was intended. A youth talked about feeling so good about taking
revenge on a friend, and only later, when he arrived home did he begin
to feel guilty of what he had just done. Why is it that people can so
easily fall into the gutter like a deviant bowling ball and not be able to
get back into the right track?
Sam and Porter allowed feelings of resentment and antagonism to
build over the years, while they worked at a dude ranch. I had been
acquainted with these men for a long time, and knew them to be caring,
concerned, and giving individuals: when they were not around each
Today, Sam and Porter are among those leading a group of trail
riders on a week-long ride through parts of the majestic Rocky
Mountains. As usual, each was trying to show off his riding skills and
understanding of horses. Lee, one of the ranch guests asked an innocent


question about snaffle bits. You have seen it before in the sports arena,
among friends, and in the workplace. You know how it goes. Everyone
is embarrassed for the two contenders. During todays ride, Sam is the
first to comment on Lees query. Porter disagrees with Sam, however,
and does so by saying, Those who have spent enough time around
horses recognize .... With these words, Sam has been excluded from
the club; his opinion has lost any value, if it ever had some.
Sam has lost face in front of the people he was trying to impress. He
attempts to protect his reputation. Porter, thats funny, Sam quips.
Since when are you the big cowboy? Several riders laugh. But Sams
moment of glory is short lived. If Sams object is to save face, the last
thing he wants to do is to get into a verbal exchange with Porter. Sam
has little chance of succeeding. Porter knows all the buttons to push to
get a reaction from Sam.
In the heat of battle it is hard to see how others may be seeing us.
Or, perhaps worse, we do not care, for we are invested enough in the
contest to feel we must minimize our injuries. Or at least make sure the
other guy is hurt as badly as we are. If the ship is going to go down, it
better take both of us. Such attitudes only help escalate the conflict to
the next level.
The subtle attacks become more and more direct. When Sam in
desperation makes a flippant comment, Porter loses no time in grinding
his face against it with calculating and dripping sarcasm: Ill try and
remember that next time I ride my mule. One gets the impression of
Porter as a cool and calculating provocateur. Porter never raises his
voice. He does not have to. His verbal skills are superior to those of
Sam. The lion tamer in a cage with a lion. The lion is getting angry and
roaring for the crowd at the circus.
During a calm in the storm Sam manages to refocus and brilliantly
deals with the subject at hand, rather than his quarrel with Porter.
Several of the riders are listening and seem impressed. But at the end of
these comments, Sam succumbs to the conflict and makes a snide
comment about Porter. Sam may be a lion, but Porter squashes him like
a mouse and leaves him twisting and turning in pain for such insolence.
Another lead rider tries to smooth things over, but only manages to
make things worse. Sam now begins to address the riders who are close
enough to listen, and ignores Porter. But frustration has taken its toll.
Sams voice is cracking and betraying his emotions as he recounts past
injuries and the history of the conflict. Sam is now beginning to use
some profanity, which is very out of place for the culture of this group.
In the process of speaking, he continues to provide Porter ammunition.
From the beginning, it has not been a fair match.
The more Sam tries to defend his hurt ego, the faster the quicksand
engulfs him. Porters tone of voice continues cool and calculating. The


lion tamer knows the lion will jump at him, and is trying to provoke the
Sams next comment takes everyone by surprise. He explains he has
been offered a job at a dude ranch in the Green Mountains of Vermont,
where he will be better appreciated. And that is what Sam has wanted
all along, just a little appreciation. Porter mocks him, instead. The lion
is now ready to pounce on the trainer. He is roaring and angry. The
crowd watches in amazement. Has the lion tamer gone mad? Sam is
flushed and stands on his stirrups to speak. None of us had ever seen
Sam use the degrading language he used next. Sam yanks on the reins of
his mount and rides back to a different cluster of riders who had not
heard any of the conversation.
The lion attacked the lion tamer and the tamer won. But wait, did he
really win? Are lions always defeated, and do lion tamers always win?
In the short run, both of these men lost the respect they so much desired.
It is hard to measure the long term losses.
In most conflicts the people involved suffer from a momentary (and
sometimes not so momentary) inability to think about the consequences.
They are willing, in the moment of anger, to pay any consequence if it
needs be. Pride displaces prudence.
The origins of conflict can be so many and varied that it would be
hard to catalogue them all. Some common sources of conflict include
disagreement, perceived lack of fairness, jealousy, misunderstanding,
poor communication, and victimization. Several factors may play a role
in any given conflict.
Beth just got turned down by Carlos, the mechanic. She had asked
Carlos to plan on working a couple of overtime hours this coming
Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Beths nose was a bit bent out of
joint. She wondered if Carlos did not yield to her because she was too
kind when she asked. Or, because she was a woman. Or, because Carlos
was envious that she got the supervisory position for which both had
competed. Carlos was uncomfortable with the interaction as well.
If Carlos had no clue that Beth was upset, would this scene still
constitute interpersonal conflict? Perhaps. The seeds of conflict are
planted when disharmony is felt within any one of the participants. Next
time Beth approaches Carlos she may change her approach. She may be
more abrupt, leading Carlos to wonder if Beth got up on the wrong side
of the bed. Carlos may then, in turn, react negatively to Beth, thus
escalating the conflict. Individuals sometimes feel stress and negative
emotion because of an interactionwhether or not they ever confront
each other about their feelings.
Wherever choices exist there is potential for disagreement. Such
differences, when handled properly, can result in richer, more effective,


creative solutions and interaction. But alas, it is difficult to consistently

turn differences into opportunities. When disagreement is poorly dealt
with, the outcome can be contention. Contention creates a sense of
psychological distance between people, such as feelings of dislike, bitter
antagonism, competition, alienation, and disregard.
When faced with challenges, we tend to review possible alternatives
and come up with the best solution given the data at hand. Unwanted
options are discarded. While some decisions may take careful
consideration, and even agony, we solve others almost instinctively. Our
best solution becomes our position or stance in the matter. Our needs,
concerns and fears play a part in coming up with such a position.
Misunderstanding and dissent can rear their ugly heads when our
solution is not the same as those of others.
Several foes often combine to create contention:
Our first enemy is the natural need to want to explain our side
first. After all, we reason, if they understand our perspective,
they will come to the same conclusions we did.
Our second enemy is our ineffectiveness as listeners. Listening is
much more than being quiet so we can have our turn. It involves
a real effort to understand another persons perspective.
Our third enemy is fear. Fear that we will not get our way. Fear
of losing something we cherish. Fear we will be made to look
foolish or lose face. Fear of the truth: that we may be wrong.
Our fourth enemy is the assumption that one of us has to lose if
the other is going to win: that differences can only be solved
We often are too quick to assume that a disagreement has no
possible mutually acceptable solution. Certainly, talking problems
through is not so easy. Confronting an issue may require (1) exposing
oneself to ridicule or rejection, (2) recognizing we may have contributed
to the problem, and (3) willingness to change.
People involved in conflict often enlist others to support their
perspective and thus avoid trying to work matters out directly with the
affected person. Once a person has the support of a friend, he may feel
justified in his behavior and not try to put as much energy into solving
the disagreement. These others (e.g., sympathetic co-workers and
friends) usually tend to agree with us. They do so not just because they
are our friends, but mostly because they see the conflict and possible
solutions from our perspective. After all, they heard the story from us.
Whether dealing with family members, friends, acquaintances or
people we work with, sooner or later challenges will arise. It is unlikely
that we find ourselves at a loss for words when dealing with family
members and with people with whom we have long hours of contact on
a regular basis. Communication patterns with those closest to us are not


always positive: they often fall into predictable and ineffective

With relative strangers we may often try and put forth our best
behavior. Out of concern for how we are perceived, we may err in
saying too little when things go wrong. We may suffer for a long time
before bringing issues up. This is especially so during what could be
called a courting period. Instead of saying things directly, we often try
to hint at problems.
We may find it easier to sweep problems under the psychological rug
until the mound of dirt is so large we cannot help but trip over it.
Honeymoons tend to end. At some point courting behavior gets
pushed aside out of necessity. Sometime after the transition is made, it
may become all too easy to start telling our spouse, friend or co-worker
exactly what has to be done differently.
I am not suggesting that we face every apparent conflict directly.
Persons differ in their sensitivity to comments or actions of others, as
well as their ability to deal with the stress created by a conflict situation.
While it is important that we are sensitive to how we affect others, there
is much virtue in not taking offense easily ourselves. We can also find
constructive outlets to dissipate stressful feelings (e.g., exercise, music,
reading, an act of service to another, or even a good nights sleep). It
does little good, however, to appear unaffected while steam builds up
within and eventually explodes.
Unresolved conflict often threatens whatever self-esteem we may
possess. Few people can boast of a self-esteem that is so robust that it
cannot be deflated by conflict. By finding someone who agrees with us
we can falsely elevate our self-esteem. But we only build on sand. As
our self esteem is depleted we become less able to deal with conflict in
a positive way. A constant need to compare ourselves to others is a
telling sign that something is amiss and that our self-esteem is weak. It
is quite easy to confuse self-esteem with vanity and pride. Our selfesteem will be constructed over a firmer foundation as we learn to deal
effectively with conflict. In Spanish there are two related words, selfesteem is called autoestima, while false self-esteem is called amor
propio (literally, self-love). As we learn to successfully negotiate
through conflicts, our self esteem and confidence is strengthened.
It takes more skill, effort and commitmentalthough in the short
run, more stressto face a challenge together with a contender. Instead
of effective dialogue, we often gravitate to three less helpful approaches
to conflict management, that is, fight (or compete), withdraw, or give in.
1. Fighting it out. A man sat in his train compartment looking out
into the serene Russian countryside. Two women entered to join him.
One held a lap dog. The women looked at this man with contempt, for
he was smoking. In desperation, one of the women got up, lifted up the
window, took the cigar from the mans lips, and threw it out. The man


sat there for a while and then proceeded to re-open the window, grab the
womans dog from off her lap, and throw it out the window. No, this is
not a story from todays Russian newspaper; instead, it is from Fyodor
Dostoevskys 19th century novel, The Idiot. The frequency and
seriousness of workplace, domestic, sports, and other types of violence
seems to be on the rise.
2. Yielding. While most can readily see the negative consequences
and ugliness of escalating contention, we often do not consider how
unproductive and harmful withdrawing or giving in can be. Naturally,
there are occasions when yielding is not only wise, but honorable (as
there are times to stand firm). If a person feels obligated to continually
give in and let another have his way, this individual may stop caring and
withdraw psychologically from the situation.
3. Avoidance. When we engage in avoidance, it only weakens
already fragile relationships. One particularly damaging form of conflict
avoidance is to send someone else to deliver a message or confront
another on our behalf.
The good news about conflicts is that there are simple and effective
tools to generate positive solutions and strengthen relationships out of
disagreements. But let not the simplicity of the concepts obscure the
challenge of carrying them out consistently. Effective dialogue entails as
much listening as talking. When disagreements emerge it is easy to hear
without listening. While effective two-way exchanges will happen
naturally some of the time, for the most part they need to be carefully
planned. Certainly life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice and
attempt to improve. However, the foes outlined above take effort to
Some disagreements are so volatile that the help of a mediator is
called for. Even then, there are likely to be several points in any
mediation process when either the stakeholder or the mediator may
wonder if there is any hope. When I was about 30 years old I climbed
Half Dome, in Yosemite National Park, and it was not that difficult. The
view from the top was spectacular. Twenty years later, when my own
children were adults, I took them up, too. Being older this time, I had to
go on a lot more faith knowing that since I did this once, I must be able
to do it again. Mind over matter. There were times when doubts crept in.
My oldest daughter kept cheering us all on, We can do it, team! A
mediator also does that: he knows that if the stakeholders put one foot
in front of the other, eventually they will make it to the top and conquer.
Just as with climbing Half Dome, there will be challenging and difficult
moments; but, oh, how worthwhile is the result! Having encountered
what seemed impossible cases before, the mediator can show
confidence in both the people and the approach.

University of California
Helping Others Resolve Conflicts: Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800

The Mediation Process
Two principles have contributed greatly to the field of conflict
management. The first, Seek first to understand, then to be
understood, was introduced by Steven Covey, in Seven Habits of
Highly Effective People.1 If we encourage others to explain their side
first, they will be more apt to listen to ours. In the process of conducting
some organizational interviews, one day I came across a manager who
was less than enthusiastic about my project. It was clear from his words
and tone that I would not be interviewing anyone at his operation, so I
switched my focus to listening. The manager shared concerns on a
number of troublesome issues and we parted amiably. When I had
walked some distance away from him, the manager yelled, Go ahead!
I turned around and inquired, Go ahead and what? To my surprise he
responded, Go ahead and interview my employees. The Covey
principle was at work.
The second principle, introduced by Roger Fisher and William Ury
in their seminal work, Getting to Yes,2 is that people in disagreement
should focus on their needs rather than on their positions. By
concentrating on positions, we tend to underscore our disagreements.
When we concentrate on needs and fears,3 we find we have more in
common than what we had assumed. Ury and Fisher suggest we attempt
to satisfy the sum of both their needs and our needs.
When the light goes on, we realize that it is not a zero sum game
(where one person has to lose for the other to win). Nor is it necessary
to solve disagreements with a lame compromise. Instead, often both
parties can be winners. Individuals can learn how to keep
communication lines open and solve challenges when things go wrong.
Learning to disagree amicably and work through problems is perhaps
one of the most important interpersonal skills we can develop. If we
come right out and tell someone, I disagree, we are apt to alienate that
person. Successful negotiators are more likely to label their intentions,
such as a desire to ask a difficult question or provide a suggestion, and


are less prone to label disagreement.4 Problems are likely to increase,

however, if we put all our needs aside to focus on another persons
perspective. The other party may think we have no needs and be quite
taken back when we introduce them all of a sudden, almost as an
In order to avoid such unproductive shock, I like the idea of briefly
saying something along these lines. I see that we look at this issue
from different perspectives. While I want to share my needs and views
with you later, let me first focus on your thoughts, needs, and
observations. At this point, we can put our needs aside, attempt to truly
listen, and say: So, help me understand what your concerns are
regarding ....
That is the easy part. The difficulty comes in fulfilling such a
resolution to really listento resist the tendency to interrupt with
objections no matter how unfounded the comments we hear may be.
Instead of telling someone that we understand (just so they can finish
and give us a turn to present our perspective), we can be much more
effective by revealing exactly what it is that we understand. All along
we must resist, as we listen, the temptation to bring up our viewpoints
and concerns. In trying to comprehend, we may need to put our
understanding in terms of a question, or a tentative statement. This way
we show true awareness.
We may have to refine our statement until the other stakeholder
approves it as a correct understanding of his position or need. It is
necessary not only to understand, but for the other person to feel
understood. Only then can we begin to explain our perspective and
expect to be fully listened to. Once we have laid out our concerns, we
can focus on a creative solution. If we have had no history with
someone, or a negative one, we need to use more caution when
disagreeing. The potential for a disagreement to be side-railed into
contention is always there, so it helps if we have made goodwill
deposits over time.


Differences in power, personality or self-esteem among the
participants in a disagreement may require the participation of a third
party. For instance, one volunteer leader had resorted to bullying and
implied threats to get his way. I would have gladly tried to find a way
to help this leader achieve his goals, a woman explained through her
tears. But now I am so sensitized, I am afraid of talking to him.
Telling people to work out their troubles on their own, grow up, or
shake hands and get along may work occasionally, but most of the time
the conflict will only be sent underground to resurface later in more


destructive ways. One option is to allow stakeholders to meet with a

third party, or mediator, to assist them in resolving their differences.
Choosing a Mediator
All things being equal, an outside mediator has a greater chance of
succeeding than a family member, friend, co-worker or other insider.
These individuals may be part of the problem, or they may be perceived
as favoring one of the parties. The stakeholders may be hesitant to share
confidential information with them. If the mediator is in a position of
power, such as a supervisor or parent, the mediator role becomes more
difficult as often people who hold power tend to become overly
directive, taking more of an arbiters role and forcing a decision upon
the parties.
A mediator should treat issues with confidentiality, with some
exceptions (e.g., sexual harassment in the workplace, child abuse in
family situations). All parties should be informed of exceptions to the
confidentiality rule ahead of time. Any sharing of information based on
the exceptions needs to be done on a need-to-know basis to minimize
giving out information that could hurt one or both of the parties. People
may be less hesitant to speak out when assured of confidentiality. Many
conflicts involve some personal issue that may be embarrassing.
Researchers have found that, in some instances, mediation works
best when the third party is able to change roles, and in the event that
mediation fails, become an arbiter. On the plus side, stakeholders may
put their best foot forward and try hard to resolve issues. Unfortunately,
while some mediators may be able to play both roles without
manipulating the situation, the road is left wide open for abuse of power.
Furthermore, individuals may feel coerced and not trust a mediator
when what is said in confidence may be taken against them later.
The conflict management process is more apt to succeed if
stakeholders have respect for the mediators integrity, impartiality, and
ability. Respect for the mediator is important, so stakeholders will be on
their best behavior, an important element in successful negotiation.
Although not always the case, over-familiarity with an inside mediator
may negate this best behavior effect.
Role of the Mediator
Mediation helps stakeholders discuss issues, repair past injuries,
confront blind spots, and develop the tools needed to face
disagreements. Mediators may also help participants broaden their
perspectives and even muddle through the problem-solving process. Yet,
successful mediators remember that the dispute is owned by the
stakeholders and do not attempt to short-circuit the process by solving
challenges for them.


Mediators facilitate the process by:

understanding each participants perspective through the
evaluating and increasing participant interest in solving the
challenge through mediation;
setting ground rules for improved communication;
coaching participants through the joint session;
equalizing power (e.g., between persons in different
organizational levels);
helping participants plan for future interaction.


The pre-caucus is a separate meeting with the mediator and each
stakeholder before the parties are brought together in a joint session.
During the pre-caucus the mediator will briefly explain the issue of
confidentiality and the mechanics of the mediation process so
stakeholders will not be surprised or have a sense of being lost.
The mediator also should offer stakeholders the opportunity for
regular caucusing (a meeting away from the other stakeholder) any time
they feel a need for it. It is important that stakeholder control is
emphasized throughout the process. Participants should not agree on
something just for the sake of agreement. If there are yet unmet needs,
these should be brought up. Sometimes, a few changes in a potential
solution can make the difference between an agreement that will fail or
succeed. Lack of agreement is better than a poorly constructed one.
While there are hundreds of factors that can affect the successful
resolution of a mediated conflict, the pre-caucus is one of the pillars of
conflict management.5 Although any talking between the mediator and
one of the stakeholders alone can be perceived as suspect and
potentially influence the neutrality of the mediator, such fears assume a
mediator-directive approach where the third party wields much power
and often acts as a quasi-arbitrator. When the mediation process is
understoodfrom the beginningas one where each of the
stakeholders retains control over the outcome, less importance is given
to mediator neutrality. Which is good, as mediators can seldom be
completely neutral.
The pre-caucus provides each stakeholder an opportunity to be heard
and understood. In a way, each party gets to express her perspective
first during the pre-caucus; not in front of the other stakeholder, but in
front of the mediator. The more deep-seated and emotional the conflict,
the greater this need to be heard.


At one enterprise, I had just been introduced to one of the

stakeholders by the owner. As soon as we were left alone, the
stakeholder broke into tears. A similar situation took place at another
organization, where one of the managers began to cry, ostensibly
because of other issues pressing heavily upon him. Had these men come
immediately into a joint meeting with their respective contenders, their
feelings of vulnerability might just as easily have turned into anger and
One manager told me that the pre-caucus would be very short with
an employee who was not a man of many words. The employee spoke
to me for almost two hours. By the time we finished he felt understood
and had gained confidence, and by the time we were into the middle of
the joint session with the other stakeholder, this same employee was
even laughing when it was appropriate. I have found that these silent
types will often open up during a pre-caucus. When a stakeholder feels
understood, an enormous emotional burden is lifted; stress and
defensiveness are reduced. This makes people more confident and
receptive to listen to the other party.
Separating the people from the conflict. Winslade and Monk in
Narrative Mediation argue that while people are theoretically free in
terms of what they say in a conversation, most often stakeholders feel
their responses are influenced by the remarks of the other. They often
see themselves entrapped within the conflict cycle.
Winslade and Monk ask individuals how they might have felt forced
by the conflict to do or say things that they wish they had not. Or, how
the conflict has affected them negatively in other ways. By placing the
blame on the conflict itself, the mediator allows the stakeholders to save
face and slowly distance themselves from the conflict-saturated story.
Such a situation can help stakeholders detach themselves from the
conflict long enough to see that each has a choice as to whether he
wants to continue feeding the conflict. The authors further suggest that
if the mediator listens with an ethic of curiosity unexpected benefits are
likely to arise. Instead of merely listening to confirm hunches and
reconcile facts,6 the third party realizes that stakeholders often bring to
mediation an olive branch along with their anger and despair. Thus,
stakeholders often hold the very keys to the reconstruction of broken
relationships and to the solving of challenges. But the mediator has to
have enough confidence in people and in the process to allow these
issues to surface and to be on the lookout for them so they do not go
During the pre-caucus, the mediator notes as many issues as possible
from each stakeholder (they often overlap considerably) and later will
permit the parties to take turns introducing these for discussion in the
joint session. The more issues raised now, the greater the opportunity for
discussion and the less likelihood that important issues will be left out.


Evaluating and increasing participant interest in solving challenges

through mediation
There seems to be a pattern in deep-seated interpersonal conflict:
each stakeholder is overly distracted with the stress of the conflict, has
difficulty sleeping at night, and is generally thinking of bailing out (of
their workplace, marriage, team, and so on). Sometimes individuals may
be in denial about the negative effect that contention has in their lives.
One manager claimed that he just got angry and exploded, but that his
anger did not last long. This manager explained that he did not hold
grudges; that by the next day he had put aside any bad feelings for the
other person. During a mediation session this same manger admitted
that a recent confrontation with the other stakeholder had made him so
angry it left him sick for a couple of days. Part of the role of the
mediator in meeting individually with each stakeholder is to help
individuals visualize life without that stress so they will try harder to
solve the challenge at hand.
In the process of meeting with the stakeholders, the mediator can
make a more informed determination as to whether to proceed with
mediation or recommend arbitration or another approach. As effective
as mediation can be, under certain circumstances more harm than good
can result from bringing parties together. The purpose of mediation is
not to simply provide a safe place for stakeholders to exchange insults!
Transformative opportunities. In The Promise of Mediation, Bush
and Folger suggest that mediators watch for and recognize
transformative opportunities.7 That is, that mediators should be on the
alert for any sort of compliment, kind word, show of understanding,
apology, acceptance of an apology, or the like, that one stakeholder may
make. Transformative comments are those that help the parties validate
each other. A businessman, almost as an aside, had something positive
to say about the other party, One thing I really value about the manager
is that he shows pride in his worksomething I really admired in my
father. The businessman reacted negatively to the idea of sharing this
with the manager, yet decided to do so on his own during the joint
Looking for the positive. While a number of issues can affect the
likely success of a joint mediation session, perhaps none is as telling as
asking stakeholders what they value in the other contender. This
question should only be asked after the participant has had a chance to
vent, and the mediator has shown understanding for the challenges from
the stakeholders perspective. There is a tendency not to find anything
of value in a person with whom there has been deep-seated contention.
After a person feels understood by the mediator in a pre-caucus, there is
a greater likelihood that the stakeholder will see a little light of good in
his contender.


Without this tiny light of hope, without this little olive branch, there
is no point in proceeding to a joint session. If there is nothing of
significance that one person can value about the other, more harm than
good can come out of the mediation. And it is not enough to say that the
other person is always on time, drives a nice car, is attractive, or
does not smell.
It may be that one of the stakeholders will be more noble than the
other, a little more prone to see good in the other. On one occasion, I
had already met with such an individual in a pre-caucus and asked the
second stakeholder, during his pre-caucus, for the positive
characteristics of the first. When the answer was none, I shared the
positive things that were said about him by the first employee and asked
again. Because stakeholders want to seem reasonable, especially after
hearing something positive about themselves, I was surprised by a
second refusal by the more reticent stakeholder to find anything of value
about the other.
Well, if there is nothing positive you can say about the other
employee, there is no purpose in attempting a conflict management
session together, I explained. I suggested a short break. When we
returned, the taciturn stakeholder had prepared a long list of positive
attributes about the other employee.
I have now come to realize that if one party has nothing positive to
say about the other, it may well mean that I have not listened to them
sufficiently as a mediator. Such a person may need to meet two or more
times with the mediator over a period of time before being ready for a
joint session. After all, some of these deep-seated conflicts have
spanned more than two decades. Is it reasonable to think that in one
listening session each party will be ready to meet with his adversary?
Repairing past injuries. Occasionally, role playing can help identify
potential pitfalls ahead of time. For instance, at one enterprise, a
managers angry outbursts were well known. Martin, the manager in
question, had minimized the seriousness of his problem. A co-mediator
role-played the other party in the contention. Martin, she began.
When you get angry at me, shout at me and use profanity, I feel very
Well, I am so sorry I have used bad language with you and been
angry at you, Martin began nicely. But .... And then Martin began to
excuse himself and to place conditions on controlling his anger. At this
moment I had to interrupt. An apology with a comma or a but is not a
true apology, but merely a statement of justification, I explained. In total
frustration Martin turned to me and with a raised voice said, Look,
everyone has their style. Some people deal with disagreement this way
or that. I am an expert in intimidation. If I cant use intimidation, what
can I do so I dont get run over? Am I supposed to just sit here and tell
him how nice he is and not bring up any of the areas of disagreement?


One of the purposes of the pre-caucus is to help coach individuals on

how to better present their perspective in a way that they will be
listened to. So, I responded to his anxious query, I am so glad you
asked, Martin; this is why I am here.
When mediators have done their homework during the pre-caucus,
the joint session can be very positive. This case involving Martin was
one of the most difficult I had ever dealt with, yet once the joint session
began, both managers did most of the talking. They were extremely
cordial, attentive, and amicable, showing understanding for each other. I
had no need to interrupt, other than to ask for help in noting what it was
that they had agreed on, as they negotiated.
Setting ground rules for improved communication
Individuals attempt to cultivate an identity or projection of who they
are. For instance, a person may see herself as an intellectual, another
may see himself as an outdoors person, a scholar, a cowboy, or an artist.
Such identity labels are just a small part of a much deeper and complex
set of traits that any individual would value.
An important part of mindful interpersonal communication is the
mutual validation of such identities, through a process of identity
negotiation. People tend to build bonds with those who seem supportive
of the identity they attempt to project.8 Charles T. Brown and Charles
Van Riper explain the broader concept this way: Acceptance results in
what we call empathy, the act of listening to the other to sense how he
wishes to be heard. This confirms him and thus he tends to confirm us,
and thus we are led to further self-confirmation. Self-acceptance and
acceptance of the other are therefore interactive.9
Such mutual validation is one of the keys to effective interpersonal
relations. Lack of validation normally plays a vital role in interpersonal
conflict, as well. Some of the most hurtful things another individual can
say to us are attacks on our self image or valued identity. One of the
most common attacks on the others identity during a conflict is to not
even acknowledge the others existence. One typical way this is done is
by refusing to use the other persons name, or by not speaking, greeting
or looking at the other. I am amazed at how some people, when
confronted about their conflict with another, may say that there is
nothing wrong, I do not say anything bad to this person, I simply do
not look or talk to him. He just does not exist for me.
People do not just project identities of who they are, but also the
personal qualities of who they wish to become. When a persons
weaknesses are exposed, he may reason that it is not worth trying to
pretend anymore. Because those who are closest to us are more likely to
have seen our weaknesses, we may first stop pretending with family,
close friends, and people at work. This attitude also plays an important
part in interpersonal conflict.


One of the important roles of a mediator is to help stakeholders who

have crossed the line and stopped trying to put their best foot forward,
to cross back, and thus get a second chance at a relationship. If we have
decided to thus change our behavior, it helps to clearly state our
intentions ahead of time, so that our new and corrected behavior is not
Coaching and modeling effective interaction styles is an ongoing
task for the mediator. There is so much to say about this topic beside the
few comments made here, that we dedicate a complete chapter to the
topic (Chapter 4, Coaching Participants on Interpersonal Negotiation).
The objective is for stakeholders to increase their understanding of
effective interpersonal relations. Before conflicting parties meet, it helps
to set ground rules that will help parties avoid hurtful comments, and
even increase positive validating ones. Ground rules will help the
conflict from escalating and save time once mediation is under way. It is
not the role of the mediator to simply allow the contenders to exchange
cynical remarks, insults, name-calling, and threats in a physically safe
environment. Nor should the mediator allow contenders to drag her into
the controversy. Instead, the mediator may have to remind the parties to
direct their comments to (and keep visual contact with) the other person
involved in the disagreement.
Overly vague or broad statements such as, You are inconsiderate,
or, You are overbearing, do little to facilitate mutual understanding.
Specific issues, or events, and what motivated each to act in certain
ways, may be more useful. In the pre-caucus, the mediator can ask the
stakeholder for examples of times when the co-worker acted in
inconsiderate, overbearing, untrustworthy or selfish ways. These
behaviors can later be discussed in the joint session. While a party can
do little about being called lazy, he can do something about his wifes
concern that she does not get enough help with the children.
Name-calling can have a very negative effect. For instance, a
Mexican employee called his co-worker a racist. That is a pretty big
word, with very strong connotations. The other stakeholder, a
Portuguese, was very hurt by the use of such a word. The mediator
stopped the conversation to make sure all were defining the word in the
same way. Are you saying that this co-worker treats you different
because you are Mexican and he is Portuguese? After the term was
well explained and a few more questions asked, the Mexican employee
ended up apologizing, and the Portuguese employee had the opportunity
to tell a story that illustrated he was not racist. It is not the role of the
mediator to reject such an accusation without allowing stakeholders to
speak what is in their mind.
Beside name-calling, the use of other labels can increase contention.
Calling someone by a label, even when the person identifies with such
(e.g., a persons nationality), can be offensive depending on the tone and


context. A more subtle use of ineffective labeling is describing our own

perspective as belonging to a desirable label (e.g., a particularly
cherished philosophy, principle or belief, or status group), while
assigning that of another to a less desirable one.
Stakeholders also look for ways to enlist even theoretical others into
supporting their views. They may attempt to inflate the importance of
their opinions with such statements as, everyone else agrees with me
when I say that .... Or, attribute a higher source of authority to their
words: According to such and such (a boss, an author, or respected
person) ... A stakeholder may wish to discount the opinion of others by
speaking of their experience: In my twenty years of experience ...
Once again, the tone and context of the conversation may make some of
these statements appropriate in one circumstance and not in another.
People may resort to dysfunctional tactics when the force of their
argument does not stand on its own merits.
Along with labeling, threatsboth direct and veiledcan reduce a
stakeholders negotiating power. When these intimidation tactics are
bluffs, then the loss of negotiation power is further magnified. The
mediator may also coach individuals into owning up to their feelings by
using I statements.10 I feel upset when ..., is preferable to You
make me angry when ....
Only one person should speak at a time, while the other makes every
possible effort to understand what is being said. One defensive tactic is
to change the topic. While sometimes two topics are so closely related
that they cannot be separated, generally new topics can be placed on a
list of other matters to be brought up later.
People involved in highly charged conflict situations frequently try
to ridicule their contenders by distorting or exaggerating what has been
said. I call this distorted mirroring. For instance, a person may
inaccurately mirror a comment, such as: So you are telling me that you
never want me to ..., or, I get it, you are the only one who ..., It
seems that you are always ... these days. Likewise, it is quite hurtful to
say You used to be [something positive] but now [negative statement].
Participants may sometimes seek shelter from a true give-and-take
with such statements as, Thats just the way I am,11 or, Cant you
take a joke? While a mediator cannot force someone out of his shell,
she may help participants understand the detracting effects these
statements may have. The earlier the mediator disallows distortions or
manipulative tactics, the sooner stakeholders will realize that this is not
a verbal battle.
A mediator may also need to coach individuals on how to formulate
questions and comments. Participants need to talk without putting each
other on the defensive or coming across as accusatory. Especially when
under the stress of a conflict, people will be quite sensitive to intended


and non-intended statements of double meaning. A critical role for the

mediator may be to ask for clarification or coach stakeholders in
properly reflecting statements.


The time has come to bring both stakeholders together into a joint
session. A mechanical aspect to mediation that is extremely powerful is
the seating arrangement. Have the two parties sit facing each other such
that they are in a position to have good eye contact, yet making sure
there is enough space between them so their personal space is not
violated. This arrangement underscores the message that they are there
to talk to each other.
Because people who are in conflict often discount the other person,
having to exchange eye
contact can be powerful
medicine toward
reconciliation. Each party
should have previously been
listened to in the pre-caucus.
Otherwise, eye contact may
increase hostilities. A table
between the parties may be
appropriate in some
The mediator sits far
enough away that
stakeholders would have to
turn their heads if they
wished to make eye contact
with her. This way, it is not
easy for the stakeholders to
check if they have scored a
point, or to enlist the
mediator to their side. If the
stakeholders make such an
attempt, the mediator
reminds them that the person
they need to convince is the
other party.
The seating arrangement
described above is such a
powerful tool that I have
Seating arrangement during the joint session. seen people apologize to


each other, be more considerate, call each other by name, and use many
positive behaviors even when the complete mediation approach outlined
in this chapter was not used. The seating arrangement is another basic
mediation pillar.
On occasion, participants have been so accustomed to facing the
mediator, however, that they have trouble with this concept. It will not
hurt to mention the seating mechanics before participants arrive at the
joint session.
The mediator can also encourage participants to address each other
by name. This can be a difficult thing at first. People who have been
contending tend to discount the other person and instead refer to the
other stakeholder as he, she, the boss, or something other than the
persons name. Addressing someone by name acknowledges and
validates the other persons humanness.
Successfully dealing with any issue under contention (e.g., the
offering and accepting of an apology, or having participants agree on
how they will deal with a future challenge) can be very energizing and
give the participants the confidence they need to face the next difficulty
that comes up.
It is good to talk about the past. A discussion of past behaviors is
essential to analyze patterns of conflict and help participants find
constructive ways of handling future disagreements. Without
understanding the past, it is hard to prepare for the future. At some
point, however, the focus of discussion turns to that of future behaviors,
rather than past injuries. The sooner the participants can focus on the
future, the greater the chances of successful resolution.12
One of the roles of the mediator is to encourage participants to be
more specific in their agreements, to help question potential landmines
and possible exceptions, and to encourage stakeholders to recapitulate
what seems to have been agreed upon. When dealing with more difficult
challenges, part of the role of the mediator is to keep the parties from
becoming discouraged by showing them how far they have progressed.
Stakeholders can be taught to utilize the concepts introduced earlier,
in terms of participant positions versus needs. Recall the case of Beth
and Carlos in Chapter 1, where each of their stances appeared
incompatible with that of the other (i.e., whether Carlos should yield to
the prescribed overtime request).
Mediators help dissipate contentious feelings by teaching
stakeholders how to find creative ways to achieve the sum13 of the
needs (theirs and the opposing ones). By going past an obvious stance
and looking into needs, we may find that (1) Beth needed some work
finished before she left for a two week assignment abroad, while (2)
Carlos had already made a commitment to his wife for the evenings
Beth had suggested the overtime work.


Had Beth and Carlos talked about their needs, they could have
agreed on a different viable solutionperhaps working overtime at a
different time. This case may seem simple and the solution obvious
except, perhaps, to Beth and Carlos before they explored each others
needs. The approach works well for more complex issues, too.
Separating position from needs, in such a way that parties attempt to
understand each others needs is yet another mediation pillar.
Mediators should not be in too big of a hurry to move participants
from their position statement and explanation of their fears and needs, to
problem resolution. It is vital to first truly understand the nature of the
challenges that seem to divide individuals. Allowing stakeholders to
hold an initial position allows each to feel understood and to retain a
sense of control and ownership over the process. A great tool is to have
stakeholders explain, to the best of their ability, the position of the other.
Stakeholders tend to discount each other by refusing to even
acknowledge that the other has a position. For instance, a cook at a large
farm enterprise was asked to recognize that the field foreman needed
meals to arrive on time to the crews. Yet the cook could not focus away
from the fact that there were meals being wasted each day.
You see, it is his fault because
We are not talking about faults at this time, we just want you to
state the perspective of the field foreman, the mediator interrupted.
Well, you see, he thinks that he can get away with ...
The cook had to be stopped over a dozen times. It was difficult for
him to even state (and thus validate) the others position. Once he
stopped evading the process and gave the position of the field foreman,
and the field foreman did the same for the cook, they quickly came to a
clever solution that benefited everyone.
An intermediate step that may have helped smooth the transition
between an internal focus and stating the other stakeholders position,
would have been to first encourage the stakeholders to ask fact finding
and non-judgmental questions of each other.14 An agreement was made
that the field foreman would call the cook with an exact meal count for
the day. Because the cook had an exact count, he had fewer meals to
cook and thus could produce them faster. A structured way to clarify
positions vs. needs is outlined in Sidebar 2-1 (p. 22).
Sometimes negotiation is attempted but peoples basic needs are
incompatible. This may be especially so when no distinction can be
made between a persons need and her position. When negotiation has
failedfor whatever reasonsa clear need may develop for resolving
the dispute through arbitration or the courts. Bush and Folger suggest,
however, that if a door is left open for continued conversation, and if
individual empowerment and mutual recognition have taken place, then
mediation was not a failure. Much more of a failure, they argue, is for a


Positions vs. Needs in Conflict Management
1. Participants divide a paper, chalkboard, or wipe
board into four sections (as shown below).
2. Participants seek to understand and record each
others position (i.e., stance).
3. Participants are free to restate, modify, or further
clarify their position at any time.
4. Participants now seek to understand and record each
others needs. Taking the time to ask effective questions of
each other is an important part of reaching such
5. Participants brainstorm ways of fulfilling the needs
of both stakeholders (in some cases solutions may not be
obvious at once and stakeholders may want to sleep on it).
For brainstorming to be effective, possible solutions
should not be evaluated at the time, and even outlandish
and extreme
possible solutions
Position of
Position of
should be
Stakeholder A
Stakeholder B
entertained. Only
later are these
* Need A-1
* Need B-1
examined for the
positive and
* Need A-2
* Need B-2
negative factors
* Need B-3
that they
6. Participants
should resist solutions where they no longer have to
interact with each other. To avoid each other takes little
creativity and is seldom the best solution. Instead,
participants need to seek creative, synergetic solutions.
7. Tentative co-authored agreements are evaluated and
refined in light of potentially difficult obstacles that such
solutions may yet need to endure.
8. Agreementsincluding a possible co-authored new
positionare recorded.
9. Participants consent to evaluate results at predetermined time periods.
10. Fine tune agreements as needed and work on other
challenges together.


mediator to be so focused on having stakeholders come to an agreement

that the agreement is forced, reducing the chances that it will be long
lasting.15 John Forester suggests that even where there are deep value
differences and basic needs are incompatible, stakeholders may come to
agreements on peripheral issues. Parties may agree to disagree while
recognizing some common goals.16 For instance, where each spouse
may have deep seated religious convictions that are incompatible with
those of the other (e.g., in terms of the values they wish to instill in their
children), yet come to an agreement on how to argue over the issue so
that the children do not get harmed.
Equalizing power
Participants may bring different amounts of power into a situation.
As long as both are interested in negotiating a solution, power may be
essentially equalized, but the mediator needs to keep an eye out for
possible abuses of power. The effective mediator helps parties listen and
communicate with each other. He may also need to draw out an
individual who is having difficulty expressing himself. Mediators can
suggest that the joint session take place in a location that is neutral and
privatewithout telephones or any other sort of interruptions.
Helping participants plan for future interaction
It is easier for stakeholders to improve communication when aided
by a competent mediator. Part of the responsibility of the mediator is to
help people anticipate some of the challenges they will face in the
future. One difficulty is to take the time to listen and communicate.
Principal among the needed skills is for sensitive listening and effective
interpersonal negotiation skills. It is difficult to always be on the alert
for such sensitive listening and interaction, but over time it can become
second nature.

Wherever there are choices to be made, differences may provide
challenges or opportunities. One difficulty is the possibility that
differences will result in increased contention. The advantage of
mediation is maintaining responsibility for problem solving and conflict
resolution at the level of those who own the challenge. Selecting an
outside mediator often makes sense. Several roles taken on by the
mediator include understanding each participants perspective, setting
ground rules for improved communication, coaching participants on
effective interaction styles, equalizing power, and helping participants
plan for future interaction.


1. Covey, S. (1989). Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon
& Schuster.
2. Fisher, R., Ury, W., and Patton, B. (1991). Getting to Yes: Negotiating
Agreement Without Giving In (2nd ed.). Penguin Books, and Deetz, S. A.,
and Stevenson, S. L. (1986). Managing Interpersonal Communication. New
York: Harper & Row Publishers.
3. No distinction is intended between the concepts of needs and fears on the one
hand, and that of interests on the other. In chapter 4, where we further
discuss some of these issues, where the terms are used interchangeably.
4. Rackham, N. (1999). The Behavior of Successful Negotiators (3rd ed.) (p.
348). Negotiation: Readings, Exercises, and Cases. Edited by Lewicki,
Saunders and Minton. Boston: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.
5. Billikopf, G. E. (Spring 2002). Contributions of Caucusing and PreCaucusing to Mediation. Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications
Journal. Number 4, pp. 3-11.
6. Winslade, J., and Monk, G. (2000). Narrative Mediation: A New Approach to
Conflict Resolution. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
7. Bush, R. A. Baruch and Folger, J. P. (1994). The Promise of Mediation. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
8. Ting-Toomey, S. (1999). Communicating Across Cultures. New York: The
Guilford Press.
9. Charles T. Brown and Charles Van Riper, The Role of Speech in Human
Relationships, in Kim & Bobby Giffin (Editors), Basic Readings in
Interpersonal Communication: Theory & Application (2nd Edition),
Harper & Row, New York, 1976, p. 166.
10. Deetz, S. A., and Stevenson, S. L. (1986). Managing Interpersonal
Communication. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.
11. Walton, R. E. (1987). Managing Conflict: Interpersonal Dialogue and
Third-Party Roles (2nd ed.) (p. 108). Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
12. Robert, M. (1982). Managing Conflict From the Inside Out (pp. 119-128).
University Associates. Excellent suggestions are also provided on how to
manage conflict among groups.
13. Fisher, R., Ury, W., and Patton, B. (1991). Getting to Yes: Negotiating
Agreement Without Giving In (2nd ed.). Penguin Books, and Deetz, S. A.,
and Stevenson, S. L. (1986) Managing Interpersonal Communication. New
York: Harper & Row Publishers.
14. Bodine, N. (2001, July). Founder and member of Board of Directors of The
Workplace Institute (now Center for Collaborative Solutions), personal
15. Bush, R. A. Baruch and Folger, J. P. (1994). The Promise of Mediation. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
16. Forester, John. (1999). Dealing with Deep Value Differences: How Can
Consensus Building Make a Difference? In Lawrence Susskind, et. al. eds.
The Consensus Building Handbook. Thousand Oaks: California. Sage

University of California
Helping Others Resolve Conflicts: Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800

Empathic Listening and
Challenging Perceptions
A few more words about the role of the mediator as a listener are
necessary. Two of the most critical skills needed by a mediator are those
of empathic listening and the ability to challenge a stakeholder to look
at possible blind spots. There is no hope for the latter, of course, until a
stakeholder feels heard.

Empathic listening seems to be very much of an acquired skill. And
even when it is acquired, it requires setting aside sufficient time to put it
to work. Empathic listening is incompatible with being in a hurry. There
are no shortcuts to listening, at least not any reliable and effective ones.
Most of us naturally gravitate towards listening with understanding
not as an end in itself, but rather, so we can solve a persons problem.
Empathic listening, instead, allows those who own the problem to begin
to hear themselves. And as they hear themselves they become equipped
to solve their own challenges. Effective mediation requires a belief in
the inherent goodness of people, as well as in the effectiveness of the
process. In the case of deep-seated interpersonal conflicts, each party
will have to go through a difficult voyage towards light and hope, one
that is often dark, cold, and discouraging. Each party will have to draw
on the confidence of the mediator when things seem impossible.
So what does it mean to truly listen with empathy? In empathic
listening we need to give the person a chance to tell us how she really
feels. Avoid the desire to come to the rescue and make it all better
with such platitudes as next time you will do great, or you need to
worry less. Telling a person that with time a certain disappointment
will hurt less is not very comforting at the moment. An important part of
listening is allowing people to get some weight off their chest. There is
great therapeutic value in being able to think aloud and share a problem
with someone who will listen. Through that process, we can begin to


better understand our problem and ourself. The good listener has
enough confidence in himself to be able to listen to others without fear.
One of my favorite examples of empathic listening comes from
Alfred Benjamin: When Lucy said, Ill never get married now that
Im [disabled], what did you do? You know you felt terrible; you felt
that the whole world had caved in on her. But what did you say? What
did you show? Did you help her to bring it out; to say it, all of it; to
hear it and examine it? You almost said: Dont be foolish. Youre
young and pretty and smart, and who knows, perhaps But you
didnt. You had said similar things to patients in the hospital until you
learned that it closed them off. So this time you simply looked at her
and werent afraid to feel what you both felt. Then you said, You feel
right now that your whole life has been ruined by this accident. Thats
just it, she retorted, crying bitterly. After awhile she continued talking.
She was still [disabled], but you hadnt gotten in the way of her hating it
and confronting it.1
How does one know if the listening was empathic? Gerald Egan
says, If the helpers empathic response is accurate, the client often
tends to confirm its accuracy by a nod or some other nonverbal cue or
by a phrase such as thats right or exactly. This is usually followed
by a further, usually more specific, elaboration of the problem
situation.2 And when one is off the mark, sometimes they will tell you,
or just as likely, they will be quiet and avoid eye contact.
Part of being a good listener may require consciously fighting to
keep an open mind and avoid preconceived conclusions. A mediator
may want to continually assess her listening style in a given situation.
For instance, she may ask herself: Am I ...
Allowing the person with the problem to do most of the talking?
Avoiding premature conclusions based on my life experiences?
Assisting the stakeholder in solving his own problem, or am I
being overly directive?
Permitting the person to retain ownership of the problem?
Perhaps a good way to explain what empathic listening means, is to
show what it is not.
Non-Empathic Listening
When a person is not listening we can often see it in his body
language: The automatic smile, the hit-and-run question, the restless
look in their eyes when we start to talk.3 Some advice givers may
come across as experts even though they have used no direct statements.
For example, they may use questions such as, Dont you think ...? or,
Have you tried ...? Listeners will want to avoid being direct while
trying to come across as an open-minded.




I observed a speaker, a therapist by training, who freely used the

line, I can see you are hurting, with those who were asking questions
at a conference. I was the conference interpreter and was in a position to
observe the audience. An older man told his sad story, and the speaker
used his line at the right moment, it seemed. The participant leaned back
and stopped talking. I could see in his eyes and body posture that he had
felt empathy from the therapist. The man had been touched and now felt
understood. I was impressed. It seemed to me, however, that with each
subsequent use of I can see you are hurting, the catchy phrase became
increasingly artificial. Fewer people were convinced of its sincerity and
the line soon meant be quiet, I want to move on. The process seemed
mechanical and hollow, rather than based on true empathy. If we do not
have time to listen at the moment, it is better to say so.
Often people begin with the intention of listening, but get derailed
along the way, but not necessarily because they do not have time. There
is a natural but unfortunate tendency to switch from a listening to a
directive approach in the course of a counseling session. The listener
may want closure, or forget that individuals tend to have their own
problem-solving styles.
People often say things like, If I were in your position, I would
have .... Maybe so. Perhaps we would have solved the problem had we
been in her place. Different personality types may approach specific
challenges in predictable ways, with likewise foreseeable results. For
instance, some people would not dream of complaining to a friend that
something the other is doing was bothering them, but instead would let
it fester inside. Others might have trouble keeping their opinions to
themselves. Finally, when we hear a problem from another persons
perspective we may assume we would solve it in a given way. Yet, when
we find ourselves in the same situation, we may feel just as unsure
about how to proceed.
Often people listen and ask questions with the idea of confirming
their own observations. A much more effective approach is to be moved
by a spirit of curiosity. Such an approach has been called a stance of
deliberate ignorance. Instead of assuming that a certain experience is
the same as another we have lived or heard of in the past, we listen with
interest and curiosity. Inquisitive listeners never assume that they
understand the meaning of an action, and event, or a word.4 Our
effectiveness as a listener is often lost if we solve the problem before the
person we are attempting to help does.
There are many ways we discount the needs of others, even when we
think we are being good listeners. For instance, we may attempt to share
our own story of loss, disappointment, or of success, before the
individual has had the opportunity to be heard in his story. We may feel
that sharing our own story is proof that we are listening, but instead, the


other person feels we have stolen the show.5 This is not to say that there
is no room to share our story with others, but rather, to make sure that
they have actually finished sharing theirs first. We encourage others by
empathic listening, by showing the person with body language, or by a
hmm, go on, or tell me more, that we are still listening and
interested. Sometimes our body language6 may be sufficient to let the
other know we are listening.
Reconciling empathic listening with your belief system
Over the years I have read numerous books about empathic
listening. One of the most powerful books I have read on the subject is
Carl Rogers Client-Centered Therapy7 which is about listening to
people in the schools, in the workplace, as well as those who are under
great duress. My challenge, however, was to reconcile Rogers
approach, the lack of any sort of absolute truth, on the one hand, with
the incredible results he obtained, on the other. For instance, Rogers
would not moralize to his clients, no matter how horrible a thing they
said. Nor did he patronize people who felt troubled and tell them it was
normal to feel a certain way. When a client said she really hated her
mother, and would be glad to see her dead, Rogers would listen. Soon,
his client would say, well, actually I do not hate her totally, I also really
love her, and I would not want her to be dead. Through the several
transcripts provided by Rogers, this pattern repeated itself over and
over. Each time, the client making good decisions, and backing away
from hurtful destructive approaches.
From experience in observing how poorly people listen, I suspect
most people would benefit from reading Rogers. But returning to my
dilemma, how should I reconcile morals, a belief in good and evil, as
well as in the existence of absolute truth, and being a good listener. Or,
how about those situations when someone is blind to the most basic
common sense? For instance, a person who says he is starving for the
affection of a family member or former friend, yet is doing everything
in his power to reject that person?
I spent months reflecting on this matter, and have come to two
conclusions. (1) When people are truly heard, they will often come to
their own correct conclusions. But if their assumptions are still faulty,
(2) by the very process of truly listening, the helper will earn the right to
challenge blind spots. Frequent good-will and listening deposits are
required of the helper before people may be effectively challenged.
When I have taken the time to truly listen first, I can then calmly
present my own concerns and perspective, if needed. A troubled youth
approached me one day.
I hate life, it has treated me terribly, he said. The comment was
bitter and the loud tone filled the room.




Oh, how I wanted to moralize and tell him that his own actions had
placed him in the present predicament. But instead, I calmly stated, a la
Rogers, Right now, you are hating life. I was trying to truly
comprehend and letting him know that I was listening.
Oh yes, he continued, but the anger reduced enormously, life
right now is terrible .... With every exchange the voice tension and
loudness subsided. This same youth soon recognized that he was not in
the right path without my having to say it.
In the process of being listened to, people begin to hear themselves.
And then the light goes on, and the person often realizes what needs to
be done. This will often happen during a pre-caucus session, when in
the midst of the darkness the individual will begin to see how he may
have contributed to a problem. Much in this business of listening and
mediating, once again, has to do with having faith in the goodness of
people. That individuals, when they can reflect and reconsider, will
often see their way back out of obscurity and into the lighted path.
There still will be times when a helper may need to share her
perspective on life. Mediators should not suggest that people violate
their own principles or belief systems, nor should anyone expect a
helper to be amoral. Often, people will seek your opinion because they
respect your values. One of the leading experts on empathic listening
and challenging, Gerald Egan, further suggests that living by a value
system may well be a pre-requisite to properly challenging others.8

Those we are attempting to help may have developed blind spots, as
was the case with a young woman who could not see how giving a
former friend the cold shoulder was not only hurtful but also feeding
the conflict between them. Blind spots prevent us from seeing our own
faults. We do not always see how our actions may be contributing to our
difficulties. As long as blind spots exist, we tend to blame everyone but
ourselves for our predicaments.
In mediation, there are times when stakeholder blind spots need to
be challenged. At its simplest, confrontation is an invitation to examine
some form of behavior that seems self-defeating, harmful to others, or
both, and to change the behavior if it is found to be so.9 Not everyone
can challenge these blind spots. A listener must earn the right to do so,10
by showing empathy and true concern. Only after the stakeholder feels
heard, can a mediator introduce challenges.
It helps to deliver challenges tentatively, as hunches.11 One
example of a challenge, is for the mediator to ask the stakeholder to
share some positive qualities about the contender during the pre-caucus.
Another example of a challenge may be to ask a stakeholder to examine


possible reasons why a person may be reacting negatively towards her.

The ideal is to challenge stakeholders in the pre-caucus, rather than
in front of their contender. This way the individual does not lose face
and the mediator avoids the appearance of favoritism. Sometimes,
opportunities are missed during the pre-caucus and mediators will need
to challenge one of the stakeholders in front of the other. This is only
done, however, if the stakeholders do not effectively challenge each
other. Part of the role of the mediator, is to prepare stakeholders in the
pre-caucus to effectively challenge and be challenged by each other in
the joint session.

Two of the most important skills a mediator needs to acquire are a
good listening ear and the ability to challenge blind spots. While both
skills are crucial, being a good listener is overwhelmingly more
important in this approach to mediation. Along with much practice, the
chapter references below are excellent resources for beginning to
understand these key principles.

1. Benjamin, A. (1974). The Helping Interview (2nd Edition) (p. 21). Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company.
2. Egan, Gerard. (1986). The Skilled Helper: A Systematic Approach to
Effective Helping (3rd Edition), Brooks/Cole Publishing Company:
Monterey, California, page 104.
3. Nichols, M. P. (1995). The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can
Improve Relationships (p. 111). New York: The Guilford Press.
4. Winslade, J., and Monk, G. (2000). Narrative Mediation: A New Approach to
Conflict Resolution (pp. 126-128). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
5. Nichols, M. P. (1995). The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can
Improve Relationships. New York: The Guilford Press.
6. Egan, Gerard. (1986). The Skilled Helper: A Systematic Approach to
Effective Helping, page 96.
7. Rogers, Carl R. (1951). Client-centered therapy: Its current practice,
implications, and theory. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
8. Egan, Gerard. (1986). The Skilled Helper: A Systematic Approach to
Effective Helping, pages 199-200.
9. Egan, Gerard. (1986). The Skilled Helper: A Systematic Approach to
Effective Helping, page 219.
10. Benjamin, A. (1974). The Helping Interview (2nd Edition) (p. 21). Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company.
11. Egan, Gerard. (1986). The Skilled Helper: A Systematic Approach to
Effective Helping, page 200.

University of California
Helping Others Resolve Conflicts: Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800

Coaching Participants on Negotiation Skills
The very thought of negotiating sounds intimidating, yet we are all
experienced negotiators. Any time we come to an agreement on
anything, we are negotiating. Some of it we may do somewhat
subconsciously, such as deciding who says hello first, or holding a door
open for another to pass through. Determining where to go out for
dinner with your spouse, or asking your daughter for help with a project
also involves negotiation. So does agreeing on the price for a product, a
vacation schedule, or on the next family vehicle.
In a formal mediation, stakeholders come to the table with differing
levels of negotiation skills, a number of which we will review in this
chapter. One mediator role is helping participants develop and
strengthen these critical skills. These are the very skills they will need in
the future, when they negotiate through conflicts without the help of a
mediator. Mediators also monitor the interaction between stakeholders
during the joint session so the mediation can be psychologically safe for
each individual.

Interpersonal skills serve a critical role in the development and
maintenance of trust and positive feelings anytime we deal with others.
They also form the building block for interpersonal negotiation skills
The most basic unit of wholesome human interaction is the stroke
a verbal or physical way to acknowledge another persons value. A
ritual is a mutual exchange of strokes: a sort of reciprocal validation of
each persons worth promoting a sense of trust between people. The
term stroke connotes intimate contact, such as what is received by an
infant who is caressed, pinched, or patted.1
As adults, people generally do not go around patting, caressing or
pinching other adults (except in the sports arena), but they may shake
hands, wave, or say hello. Most stroking takes place in the way of


verbal communication and body language. Examples may include

waving, smiling, a glance of understanding, shaking hands, saying hello,
or even sending a card or flowers.
Physical strokes may include placing a hand on another persons
shoulder, elbow, or back. While some persons do not mind, others feel
these gestures, unlike the handshake, may be inappropriate. A young
woman reported that an acquaintance mistook her friendly pats on the
backintended to convey thanks for a job well doneas a romantic
interest for him. Similarly, a man confused the horseplay on the part of
a young woman (in the way of throwing water at him and grabbing him
by his shirt) as a show of sexual interest. Both of these cases gave rise
to unfortunate behaviors on the part of the men involved.
People may resent these physical strokes, not necessarily because
they are sexual in nature, but because they often represent a show of
superiority. Dexter, a supervisor, tended to frequently put his arm
around Lauries shoulder. Dexter was visibly uncomfortable, however,
the day when Laurie put her arm around his shoulder. Laurie reported
that as a result, Dexter stopped the annoying practice. In terms of
physical strokes, we may have widely differing feelings about them
depending on the situation and persons involved. From one individual
we may find these gestures comforting, yet resent the same coming
from another.
Before communicating other types of information, an exchange of
strokes normally takes place. The need for personal validation is great.
People may prefer negative attention to being totally ignored. Try to
imagine how awkward it would be to meet a friend you have not seen
for a few days and not greet him in any way, through either gesture or
word. The opposite of a stroke is the cold shoulder treatment.
Some verbal strokes may be quite neutral or uncommitted, such as I
see. Others show more care or interest: I heard your daughter is
getting married, thats exciting! Body language and tone of voice also
play an important role in the intensity of stroke exchanges. Generally,
when individuals know each other well, have not seen each other for a
while, or when there has been a catastrophe or other special
circumstances, a more forceful stroke is expected.
At times, the intensity of a stroke may make up for its brevity. For
instance, we may realize special circumstances call for a longer stroke
exchange, yet we may not be able to deliver at the moment. A neighbor
may enthusiastically welcome a friend returning from a vacation, Hey,
Im so glad youre back, youll have to tell me everything about your
trip this evening! Ive got to be running now before the store closes.
This stroking still validates the neighbors existence while
simultaneously acknowledging more is owed. A drastic change in ritual
length or intensity among people, for no apparent reason, may affect a




persons self-esteem or make them wonder what is wrong with the

Strokes play a good-will maintenance function in relationships.
Without them conflict may surface or escalate. That is why it is so
important for stakeholders to have good eye contact, call each other by
name, and validate each others existence during the mediation process.

Once the basic ritual is over, people may go their own way or
engage in a longer conversation. Poor conversational skills may hinder
interpersonal relations as well as the resolution of conflicts. So, what
makes a person difficult to talk to? Mostly those who are interested in
only one topic, tend to be negative, are overly competitive (that is,
anything you say they want to outdo), talk excessively about
themselves, resort to monosyllabic answers, or talk too much.
Some conversations are much more animated than others, involving
some interruption, exchange of stories, and experiences. Talking and
listening is a unique relationship in which speaker and listener are
constantly switching roles, both jockeying for position, ones needs
competing with the others. If you doubt it, try telling someone about a
problem youre having and see how long it takes before he interrupts to
tell you about a problem of his own, to describe a similar experience of
his own, or to offer adviceadvice that may suit him more than it does
you (and is more responsive to his own anxiety than to what youre
trying to say).3 While this competition for sharing ideas and feelings
can be invigorating at times, all too often both parties may feel
discounted and dissatisfied.
Having an interest in what others have to say is a key to being a
good conversationalist. Not only having an interest, but showing it, by
attending to what the other individual is saying. In the words of Alfred
Benjamin, Genuine listening is hard work; there is little about it that is
mechanical .... We hear with our ears, but we listen with our eyes and
mind and heart and skin and guts as well.4 In the process of attending,
or empathic listening, it is not enough to be able to repeat back what
another has said, but it is just as important to show she is important
enough to give her our undivided attention. To suspend our own
needs5 for a moment, while we truly absorb what the other person is
telling us.
Some assure us that they can listen and do something else at the
same time, such as work on the computer, read a newspaper, or attend to
other business. Certain individuals are better at multi-tasking than
others. Nevertheless, the message to the speaker is discomforting: You
are not important enough for me to attend exclusively to your needs.


Listening, then, is not only about listening, but about letting the other
person feel heard.
An effective conversationalist is also able to take and pass along
talking turns.6 Keeping comments short and checking to make sure the
other person is still interested are two essential conversational skills. In
a mutually productive discussion, individuals will normally share
equally in speaking and listening.
Difficulty arises when people take more than their share of the
talking time. This may happen when individuals feel others are not
listening or when they suffer from lack of self-esteem.7 If they let
someone else speak, they fear they may not get another turn. Of course,
there are also times when people have a need to be listened to, rather
than for conversation.
Whatever the reason, regularly monopolizing a conversation is likely
to alienate others. To combat this vicious cycle, it is more effective to
fully listen for a few minutes than to half listen for a longer period.8
At the opposite extreme, it also reflects negatively on a person when
he is given a turn to speak but pouts or refuses it. A person who has
nothing to say or is not sure he can express his feelings at the moment,
can instead say something like, That is an interesting issue, and then
indicate who the turn will go to next,9 Inesa, what do you think of
that? In interpersonal negotiations neither of the stakeholders should
monopolize the conversation, norat the opposite extremesilently

An effective way to prepare for very difficult or emotionally charged
situations is to role-play ahead of time. Role-playing the opposite
perspective can be particularly enlightening. Also, it helps to gather
factual information that can be shared in a spirit of discovery, rather
than one of superiority over the other party. Often, both parties can seek
out the facts together.
Part of effective preparation is considering the worst possible
scenario, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA).10
Even not agreeing to negotiate is a form of negotiation. If we cannot
come to an agreement, what is the worst possible outcome to this
situation? In thinking of such worst outcomes, it is useful to think not
only of our worst outcome, but also what the worst outcome for the
other party might be. Sometimes people are afraid to act for fear that by
speaking up there will be negative consequences. Yet, in most cases, the
worst case scenario does not only provide negative consequences for
one party, but for both.





As negotiators, it helps to learn about other peoples preferences and
also make our own clear. One manager explained that it was hard
enough to understand our own needs and preferences, let alone be able
to concentrate on someone elses. And perhaps that is one of the reasons
why we do not see as frequent a use of interest-based negotiation. It
does take a certain amount of effort, especially at first. With time, it can
begin to feel more natural.

Effective negotiation frequently calls for a great amount of patience.
Logic is not the only thing that prevails in bargaining efforts. Allowing
other people, as well as ourselves, the time to work out problems is
Not coming across as wanting something too much is related to
patience. When we become overly narrow as to the result we will
accept, we put ourselves at a negotiation disadvantage. So it was when
my wife and I bought our first home. We were so openly delighted with
it, that we lost an opportunity to bargain much over price. Of course,
there is a balance between being desperate and playing hard to get,
neither of which is very positive.

At a time when many decisions were made on a handshake, my
parents, grape growers in Chiles central valley, invited all the children
to a family conference. They explained: Earlier this year we came to an
agreement with the winery for a price. Since then, many vineyards were
affected by a terrible freeze, one that has meant a huge decline in
supply. Had we waited a few more months we could have gotten a much
better deal. My parents asked each of their five children for their
opinions. The answer was a unanimous agreement to honor the oral
agreement. At the time, I felt impressed that my parents would ask for
our input. Since then I have come to the conclusion that they knew the
answer all along, but wanted to teach us an important lesson about
Trustworthiness plays a huge role in successful negotiation.
Dependability, honesty, and consistency are all part of trustworthiness. I
often hear individuals involved in negotiations say, I dont trust that
person. It has also been said, It is more important to be trusted than to
be loved. When we lose trust for a person, we begin to discount him. In
our mind the individual begins to become undependable and dishonest.



And she didnt even sign the e-mail! a manager complained. He
had a bitter taste as a result of some dealings with a local government
agency. In a world of increasing electronic correspondence, the
possibilities for misunderstanding are ever increasing. When using email, there is much we can do to become better communicators.
Nevertheless, it is dangerous to assume that someone did not sign so she
could offend us. This is especially so when the persons name already
appears as part of the e-mail address, which was the case here.
E-mail etiquette is no different than any other type of good manners.
There is a great variation in what people consider polite. For instance, in
some cultures it is considered good manners to leave the toilet seat
down. In others, the polite thing is to leave it up so it can stay clean. In
some Hispanic sub-cultures it is rude for a man to greet the wife of a
friend with a kiss on the cheek; in others, it is rude not to.
While we want to make every effort to be polite, it is best to avoid
being judgmental about other peoples behavior. At one office, one of
the partners tended to assume that the other two partners were talking
about him when he saw them conversing. This is called negative
attribution. It is all too easy to incorrectly interpret another persons
innocent behavior and assume the worst.
Some years ago I was asked to talk to a group of young adults at
church. I noticed that as I spoke, a young man would lean toward the
young lady beside him and whisper. I found this to be very distracting. I
feel very strongly that only one person should speak at a time, and so it
was that every time he began to talk, I stopped. When I stopped, he
stopped, and so it went. I later found out he was interpreting for a
foreign visitor. On another occasion, I attended a soccer referee meeting
where my supervisor was pointing out some problems. I began to
defend myself. We were not talking about you, the supervisor said
calmly. It is embarrassing to run at the sound of a shaken leaf when
no one pursues. It is good to avoid assumptions or becoming defensive.
An effective tool, instead of assuming the worst when we do not
know how to interpret something, is to very briefly describe what
happened and let the other person explain. Such a description should
avoid inferences as to why someone did something. We will often find
out there was a good reason for what took place, or at least give each
party the opportunity to explain her perspective.

Everyone brings inputs into a relationship. People put a value on
each others inputs (or contributions, such as a persons job,




education, skills, or efforts). The best way of preserving the value of our
own inputs is by valuing the inputs of others. The value placed on a
persons time is a good proxy for power, and this helps explain why
quality time spent with people can be so meaningful.
Conflict may arise when other peoples assets are not valued. One
young woman, a college graduate, may look at her formal education as
an asset. A more seasoned woman may look at her life experiences.
Neither may value the others assets. Both may fight for privileges or
status based on their perceived contributions. Instead, both would be
better off by acknowledging each others strengths.
Sometimes it is not only an issue of valuing others, but of expressing
such positive feelings. For some people it is very hard to say something
kind about another. I should not have to say it, they reason, because
my actions should show my positive feelings. Others have trouble
accepting a positive comment, I do not believe you mean it [that nice
thing you are saying about me]. Part of healthy interpersonal
relationship is being able to both offer and accept positive comments
from others. Thanks, I appreciate hearing your kind comments, they
made my day.

Our emotions regularly get in the way of effective negotiations.
Nothing kills creativity quicker than anger, pride, embarrassment, envy,
greed, or other strong negative emotion. Anger is often an expression of
fear, or lack of confidence in our ability to get what we think we want.
Emotional outbursts tend to escalate rather than solve a conflict. If we
can improve our ability to manage our emotions and respond without
getting defensive, we have gone a long way toward creative negotiation.
A friend once wisely said, When we permit negative emotions, such as
anger, to take control of us, this is a sure sign we are about to step into a
It is extremely difficult to hide our emotions, especially when we
feel there is much in the balance. Our body language, particularly our
facial gestures and voice tonal qualities, often give us away. We are not
emotionless robots, nor is it advantageous to completely hide our
emotions. However, it is better to describe our negative emotions (e.g., a
feeling of disappointment) rather than to show them.


Strong negative emotion can lead us into psychological traps. So can
overinvestment in an idea. If the foundation is wrong, we may have to
undo all our work and begin from scratch. Depending how far into a


project we are, this can be quite painful and expensive. We have to first
recognize that we have been wrong before we can make things right.
If we notice that the concrete foundation to the structure we are
building is faulty, we can close our eyes and continue work only at our
own peril. As painful as it may seem now, the sooner we recognize our
error and make the necessary expenditures to break up and remove the
concrete so we can start over, the better off we are.
Sometimes we may feel overinvested in terms of an idea. It may be
as hard to admit we were wrong as it was to break up that concrete.
People who are willing to admit a mistake are more likely to be
considered trustworthy. A proper apology is extremely powerful. So is
sharing a goal we have in terms of a new approach to dealing with
issues. If we have been extremely critical in the past, it helps to let
people know we will be working to improve that negative trait.
To be genuine, an apology must not come across as a justification
for what we have done wrong. A true apology is also accompanied with
an offer to make restitution when that is possible. Furthermore, a sincere
apology implies a willingness to make the appropriate changes
commensurate with what we have done wrong. When it is warranted, I
like the idea of asking the person who has been offended, Will you
accept my apology?
When someone expresses regretbut makes little effort to change
this is hardly an apology. As powerful as an apology can be, when
someone takes back that apology by word or deed, it would have been
better if he had expressed no regrets at all. In many cases of domestic
violence (physical or verbal), it is not uncommon for a man to be
contrite after beating his wife. By the next day he may have begun to
minimize the damage, and not long thereafter is striking her again.
A person who is willing to accept an apology and forgive another is,
likewise, in a better position than one who is not. It is difficult to trust a
person who will not acknowledge an apology. An individual who has
truly forgiven another does not continually remind the other of that fact.
Some comments and deeds are so hurtful in their nature, however, that it
may take time before a person can truly feel free of the associated pain.


Deadlines are often self-imposed. How often do we feel obligated to
respond right away when facing a difficult situation? People can ask for
a little more time to study out a matter, or to accomplish a task. Do not
be afraid to ask, This is a tough one, can you give me until 3 p.m.
tomorrow to get back to you? Or, It is now 8:15 a.m., and I am tied
up for the next two hours. If I call you between 11 and 11:30 a.m., will
that work for you? This type of detail only takes a few minutes longer
to negotiate.




If we can build a little cushion for the unexpected, that is helpful.

Most people do not mind having to wait a little longer if they know
what the real situation is. If a deadline seems hard to meet, ask to renegotiate an extension before the due date. An effective negotiator will
ask the other party to suggest or take a role in establishing a deadline,
rather than arbitrarily impose one.
I will call you back as soon as I can, or I will call you right back
on the other hand, can leave much to be desired. As a recipient of that
message we may wonder, does that mean I will receive a call in the next
half hour, two hours, or week? Can I go to lunch or do I need to sit here
and wait? Although not intended as such, lack of clarity may come
across as an avoidance tactic. To be credible, we need to be specific
about time and about the nature of the task to be accomplished.
To do what we say we will do, and do so in a timely fashion, builds
trust. People who can be counted to follow through with what they say
they will do are invaluable.


An effective negotiator is constantly looking for ways to break down
challenges into smaller, more easily solvable issues. For instance, if a
foreman is resisting the introduction of an electronic gadget to help keep
track of employee performance, it helps to talk it over, and find out
specific concerns. There may be some apprehension about (1) the
reliability of the system, (2) setup time, or even (3) staying on top of
production data. Each of these concerns can be addressed separately.


Without a doubt, the worst type of intermixing of issues is that of
combining some problem that is important to us with our own selfworth. It is ineffective and manipulative, for instance, to imply that
disagreement with our idea is equivalent with a vote of no-confidence
against us. Such an approach will sooner or later result in our feeling
While we often feel a great need to share feelings with someone who
can be supportive, we ought to choose such a person with care. If an
individual always agrees with us and validates our perspective, such a
person may not be doing us a favor. People who feel validated
elsewhere may put less effort into improving a failing relationship. A
positive relationship is one in which the listener can help us identify
where we may have contributed to the problem. We all need people who
can help us see the blind spots in our personalities and behaviors.



Threats reduce our negotiating ability. Such threats may entail a
directed consequencetowards ourselves or someone else. Any type of
threat can greatly undermine our long-term negotiating ability. This is
even more so when an individual does not follow through. Threats do
not engender trust or liking.
Even inconsequential threats can be annoying. At a family game,
one player repeatedly threatened to quit. After a half dozen threats, his
mother told him, The first time you threatened, I was concerned; by the
last threat, I was just ready for you to quit and let the rest of us enjoy
the game. One volunteer who had threatened those around him with
comments about leaving began to quickly lose the support of others
around him. The respect that this individual so much wanted from his
colleagues began to vanish, and even his loyalty to the organization was


Humor, when properly directed, can help break up tension and make
us more effective negotiators.12 To be effective, it helps if the humor is
clever; makes light of the situation or the speaker, but never the other
stakeholder; does not involve potentially offensive ideas or language;
and the timing is right. Some of the most effective humor is subtle, and
we often arrive at it by accident. Humor may involve telling about life
events that may have been embarrassing at the time but show we are
human. Effective humor communicates to others that we are willing to
take ourselves lightly. Humor, of course, can do more harm than good
when it is not used appropriately. Too many people think they are quite
funny when they are not.


The suggestion of focusing on the problem rather than the solution
may sound counter intuitive. Yet, for a number of reasons, it is one of
the keys to effective negotiation. The more complex the situation, the
more important this principle. When someone comes with the solution,
even when that solution is a good one, it gives the other stakeholder the
feeling of not having any control. Research has shown13 that people
often prefer an outcome that is not as beneficial, as long as they have
some control over the results.
Even if a stakeholder has gone out of his way to find a fair solution
for all involved, when such a solution is presented as firm, it tends to
put other stakeholders on the defensive. In one such case, a business




partner who was presented with such a stance (i.e., given the solution)
felt coerced to do all the compromising. What this stakeholder did not
realize until later is that the solution being presented was already a huge
concession and compromise on the part of the other stakeholder who
presented it.
The timing and approach must be right. An individual with an
excellent idea needs to wait until the predicament that has brought
everyone together has been carefully discussed and until the needs of all
the stakeholders are understood. Only then can the solution be
presented, and this needs to be done in a very tentative fashion. Would
such and such an idea meet your needs, or can we play with the concept
and twist it a bit so it does?
Where there is an emotionally charged atmosphere, or when there is
much riding in terms of consequences for individual stakeholders, this
approach may make a difference between success and failure. An
effective negotiating technique, then, is to come to the bargaining table
with the idea of studying the problem and individual needs, rather than
imposing a solution.
This approach of coming right out with a fair solution, but doing
away with all the bargaining, is known to most of us as the take it or
leave it tactic. In collective bargaining, it is called Boulwarism, named
after former General Electric Vice President Lemuel R. Boulware. What
management would do was to propose a final offer to the union right up
front. Management went out of their way to study all the facts that could
pertain to the contract, and to make it fair for all involved, trying to do
right voluntarily. They refused to budge from their position, however,
unless any new facts of sufficient strength were presented. Such an
approach was highly resented by the union, which felt undermined. Two
new facts played key roles against Boulwarism: (1) the practice was
found to some degree, to constitute bad-faith bargaining by the National
Labor Relations Board and the courts; and (2) the union also made a
very strong point against the tactic through a successful strike.14
When we are the ones being presented with a possible solution, it is
good to be slow to find fault. If someones proposal is quickly followed
by our counterproposal, the other is likely to feel slighted. Two key
reasons for avoiding quick counterproposals include (1) stakeholders are
least receptive to hear another proposal after setting theirs on the table,
and (2) such counteroffers are often perceived as disagreement, or an
affront to face.15
At the very least, then, efforts should be made to let the other
stakeholders feel that their proposal is being taken seriously and has
been understood. If a counterproposal builds on the other stakeholders
proposal, and credit is so given, then the chances for negative feelings
are further curtailed.



Interest-based (or, needs based, integrative approach) negotiation is
built upon the principle of meeting the needs of all the individuals or
stakeholders. Deep conflict requires a tremendous exertion of
psychological and physical energy.... Such conflict may be creatively
transformed when adversaries come to learn, ironically perhaps, that
they may fulfill their deepest needs and aspirations only with the
cooperation of those who most vigorously oppose them.16
A needs-based approach frequently calls for creative thinking that
goes beyond the poorly thought out compromisesuch as those arrived
at when there is a rush to solve before we have made an effort to
comprehend. A deep understanding of the underlying challenge is
required for a long-term solution. Many conflicts that on the surface
seem to be purely about resources, often have significant components
related to issues of participation, face saving, relationships, and identity.
We frequently fail to explore beyond the obvious solution. It helps to
validate the other stakeholders needs as a starting point in exploring
creative solutions and as a way to reduce negative emotion. Hmm ...
you need to get home by four today. Lets think of how we can ....
Having said all this, it is not easy to be creative. It takes work. The
following five-step process has been suggested to get the creative juices
flowing: (1) actively consider all alternatives, (2) digest and rearrange
the data, and (3) set the challenge aside and wait. Wait for what? ... for a
(4) sudden flash of inspiration, which needs to be (5) rigorously
tested.17 These steps recognize the importance of looking at a challenge
from all angles, studying out a problem, and then putting it aside for a
time. Sometimes steps one through three may need to be repeated
several times until that inspiration comes.
For interest-based negotiation to work, people have to be able to
share their needs and fears. Otherwise, how can individual needs be met
if they are closely guarded. Stakeholders, furthermore, must be able to
retain a sense of ownership over framing such needs and fears. All of
this is not always possible or easy to accomplish. Interest-based
negotiation, then, is contrasted against either competing (win/lose),
yielding, or compromising approaches. These alternate approaches may
sometimes work well, but all too often they yield weak solutions.
In traditional negotiations people often attempt to convince the other
side of the merit or justice of their proposal. Merit and justice still play
a role in interest-based negotiation, but so does exploring for solutions
that meet mutual needs.
Not everyone finds the interest-based concept easy to swallow,
however. A little caution, if not cynicism, may well be necessary to
survive. While we can attempt to model effective negotiation strategies




when dealing with others, at times we may have to resort to a more

traditional approach. Research has demonstrated that those who are
willing to compete or use a more traditional approach, if so forced, yet
prefer a mutually productive approach, may be more credible
For instance, Daniela, a relatively new manager, had heard of the
difficult reputation developed by John, one of the assistants, but she had
never had any difficulties with this individual. Daniela approached John
one day and found him sitting with his feet up on a table, reading a
magazine. She apologized for disturbing him, assuming that perhaps this
might have been his break period.
John, when you can, could you please pick up some supplies for
me? Daniela asked politely. John answered rather curtly, Right now?
She was not going to be intimidated, and responded, That will work
great for me, thanks! John continued to show difficult behaviors with
other individuals, but from then on never showed Daniela any
discourtesy. I am not suggesting that Daniela took the very best
approach available, but it served her well on that occasion.
Competing means one person gets his way. Or at least it seems so at
first. In the long run both parties often end up losing. It does little good,
for instance, to get a wonderful contract for your new facility, if the
contractor is left with such a small profit margin that she goes out of
business before completing it.
Competition tends to focus on a particular episode, rather than on
long-term viability; on the present goal, rather than on the long-term
relationship. I know a retired supervisor who brags that his subordinates
soon learned he was not always rightbut always the boss. Although
this man may have obtained worker compliance from his winning
tactics, I doubt he got much in terms of employee commitment. Losers
often hold grudges and find ways of getting even.
Should not a business try and obtain a good price for their product?
Or get the best possible deal when buying a new piece of equipment?
What about one-time situations, where you will never see another again
in your life? Hidden in these questions are deeper issues. Surely, there
are times when we bargain with the idea of getting the best possible
results. In some cultures, people are offended if you pay the asking price
without bargaining. However, many times in life we think we are
dealing with a one-time situation only to find that we have to negotiate
or interact with that individual again.
The catch is that once people get caught up in competitive
negotiation, it is often hard to step back and see clearly enough to work
through difficulties in a collegial manner.
Yielding (unilateral concessions at the expense of the person doing
the giving in). We are most likely to yield if we feel there is little chance


of winning, or if the outcome is more important to the other person than

to us. An angry co-worker began to shout and push me, trying to pick a
fight, and I left, an employee explained. For some reason I let it go
and just backed away and left. This individual reflected that in his
more youthful times he was a hothead and probably would have fought
back. Instead, this situation was later resolved in a more positive way, at
least for the less temperamental employee.
In some situations yielding can be a virtue, but not always. A person
who continues to yield sometimes stops caring. I do not see any harm in
the occasional business yielding, or a balanced yielding among spouses,
or even the frequent yielding obedience of a child to a parent or teacher.
There are two specific types of yielding that concern me: (1) if saying
yes today means living with frustration or resentment tomorrow,
yielding is not a virtue; and related to that, (2) when we repeatedly
agree to go along with a weak solution (e.g., because we want to avoid
disagreement at all costs), this is not appropriate yielding, either. When
we stop caring, we often withdraw physically or emotionally.
Compromise (mutual concessions where both parties yield some).
Some compromises involve an arrangement somewhere between two
positions; others may mean alternating the beneficiary. An example of
the former is paying something between the original asking price and
the amount we wished to pay. An instance of the latter may involve
alternating who gets to use the computer when there is limited computer
time. While some issues lend themselves well to compromise, many
others do not.
Compromise takes a measure of goodwill, trust and maturity, but not
much creativity. Why is it that finding a middle ground can provide so
little long-term satisfaction? Compromise often involves lazy
communication and problem solving. For many of us, the term
compromise certainly has come to acquire a negative connotation.
While mutual concessions may take place at any time in the negotiation
process, all too often such compromising occurs before the challenge
has been sufficiently understood, or more creative solutions considered.
The human brain is capable of taking large amounts of data, quickly
digesting it, and coming up with the one best solution. This is good
when it comes to making quick decisions under time constraints.
Unfortunately, we are often eager to accept a solution that seems to
work, rather than the truly creative solution. The latter provides a sort of
contagious exhilaration. Once group members are involved to this
degree, it is hard to turn back.
You may have heard the classic tale of two siblings who argued over
who would get an orange. They compromised and split it in half. One
ate half and threw away the peel; the other, who was involved in a
cooking project, grated the peel and discarded the rest.18





In traditional negotiations, we are inclined to focus exclusively on
our needs and assume it is the other stakeholders responsibility to
worry about having her needs met. Yet, by showing a sincere interest in
the needs of others we increase the chances of having our needs met.
While talking about our needs and fears may have been considered a
selfish thing in traditional negotiation, in creative negotiation it is not
selfish by definition, as it is not only our needs and fears that are being
considered, but also those of the other stakeholders.
In traditional negotiation, as soon as we get close enough to the
solution we want, we are often prone to accept someones yielding their
will to ours. While at times the motivation on our part may be selfish, in
others we may truly believe that our solution will best serve all
involved. Earlier we said that (1) it was difficult for true caring to coexist with frequent giving in; and (2) jumping to solutions before the
problem is carefully understood often produces weak solutions.
Sometimes people will yield or pretend to yield out of frustration
over the situation. By accepting their yielding, we have reduced our
direct and indirect negotiation power. Instead, we not only get better
solutions when we make sure the other person is completely satisfied
with the solution, but we gain trust in their eyes and can thus improve
our negotiation strength.
We may often sense that another person is giving in, rather than
agreeing that the solution that has been suggested is, indeed, the best
possible alternative. If you read emotion or strength of conviction in
another stakeholder (or the very opposite), you may want to step back
and consider together what unmet needs may exist still and work toward
finding a solution that takes these into consideration.
Benie and Jennifer Matsuda were making some joint family plans.
They came to an agreement, but Benie noticed that his wife had only
agreed hesitantly. Rather than just accepting Jennifers agreement and
moving on with his own plans, Benie said, I notice that you are not
totally pleased with our decision. It is really important to me that this is
right and that you are as happy with this decision as I am.
Jennifer said she felt comfortable with the decision, but Benie still
sensed otherwise. Benie had the perfect opportunity to move forward
and do things the way he wanted to, but hesitated again. I still sense
there is something you are feeling, perhaps difficult to put into words,
but nevertheless something important that makes you hesitate. Jennifer
answered, Actually, I think you may be right. She agreed to think over
the matter some more. That night they had another chance to converse at
length, and Jennifer was able to better articulate a fear she had. As a
result they were able to make some small but important adjustments that


left them both satisfied. Moreover, Jennifer was able to further build her
trust in her husband because he had honored her feelings, thoughts, and


Attributions should be neutral or tentative, such as I sense there is
something wrong here. Avoid attributing negative emotions to another
person, such as You are angry. Nor should one ascribe a reason along
an attribution, You must be hurt because we made reservations without
consulting you. Instead, just describe the emotion in more neutral
ways, and with some degree of tentativeness, allowing the other
stakeholder to either validate these feelings, or offer her own
explanation: I sense that something is still not right in our agreement,
but I am not sure if I am reading that correctly.


Differences in cultural or ethnic backgrounds can sometimes lead to
interpersonal misunderstandings and conflict. A spirit of adventure and
interest in others can do much to reduce or eliminate such challenges. In
1993, I had my first opportunity to visit Russia as a representative of the
University of California. Russians are a very polite people, I had been
tutored before my arrival. One of my interpreters, once I was there,
explained that a gentleman will pour the limonad (type of juice) for the
ladies and show other courtesies.
Toward the end of my three week trip I was invited by my young
Russian host and friend Nicolai Vasilevich and his lovely wife Yulya out
to dinner. At the end of a wonderful meal Yulya asked if I would like a
banana from the basket on the table. I politely declined and thanked her,
and explained I was most satisfied with the meal. But the whole while
my mind was racing: What do I do? Do I offer her a banana? What is
the polite thing to do?
Would you like a banana? I asked Yulya.
Yes, she smiled, but made no attempt to take any of the three
bananas in the fruit basket. What now? I thought.
Which one would you like? I fumbled.
That one, she pointed at one of the bananas. So all the while
thinking about Russian politeness I picked the banana Yulya had pointed
at and peeled it half way and handed it to her. Smiles in Yulya and
Nicolais faces told me I had done the right thing. After this experience
I spent much time letting the world know that in Russia, the polite thing
is to peel the bananas for the ladies. Sometime during my third trip I
was politely disabused of my notion.




Oh no, Grigorii Davidovich, a Russian graciously corrected me.

In Russia, when a man peels a banana for a lady it means he has a
romantic interest in her. How embarrassed I felt. And here I had been
proudly telling everyone about this tidbit of cultural understanding.
Certain lessons have to be learned the hard way. Some well meaning
articles and presentations on cultural differences have a potential to do
more harm than good and may not be as amusing. They present, like my
bananas, too many generalizations or quite a distorted view.
Furthermore, many situations and behaviors depicted as typical of one
culture may be based on something that may have been true at one time,
but because of the speed of global cultural changes today, are certainly
not true anymore.
Commonality of humankind
Differences between individuals within any given nation or culture
are much greater than differences between groups. While at the San
Diego airport, a man caught my attention. He was conversing on the
phone a distance from where I was sitting. There was something about
him that made me wonder if he was Russian. Little pockets of words
could be heard more distinctly at times. When I heard the word
chilaviec, or person, my senses were confirmed. I wanted to try out
my three words of Russian with him, and the opportunity presented
itself about twenty minutes later when he passed next to me.
Dobrie utra (good morning), I said. This stopped him in his tracks.
How did you know? he asked incredulously as he turned to face
me. We struck up a wonderful conversation about Russia. We had a
number of common interests. Some time later, he pointed in the general
direction of those boarding and indicated that there was another Russian
that would be flying this leg.
When it was time for me to board, I reluctantly excused myself. As
things turned out, after I sat down a quick glance at my neighbors
reading materials indicated he was the the other Russian in the plane.
Dobrie utra (good morning), I said once again. Without ever
looking up from his book, he simply and unenthusiastically answered
Dobrie utra (good morning). End of conversation. Making
generalizations based on few encounters may incorrectly lead us to
believe that Russians are either very cold or very friendly.
Cultural and ideological differences
Education, social standing, religion, personality, belief structure, past
experience, affection shown in the home, and a myriad of other factors
will affect human behavior and culture.
Sure there are differences in approach as to what is considered polite
and appropriate behavior both on and off the job. In some cultures yes


means, I hear you more than I agree. Length of pleasantries and

greetings before getting down to business; level of tolerance for being
around someone speaking a foreign (not-understood) language;
politeness measured in terms of gallantry or etiquette (e.g., a man
standing up for a woman who approaches a table, yielding a seat on the
bus to an older person, etc.); and manner of expected dress are all
examples of possible cultural differences and traditions.
In Mxico it is customary for the arriving person to greet the others.
For instance, someone who walks into a group of persons eating would
say provecho (enjoy your meal). In Chile, women often greet both
women and men with a kiss on the cheek. In Russia women sometimes
walk arm in arm with their female friends. Paying attention to customs
and cultural differences can give someone outside that culture a better
chance of assimilation or acceptance. Ignoring these can get an
unsuspecting person into trouble.
Language barriers can cause misunderstandings. Words may sound
the same, yet have unlike meanings in different languages. Thus when a
young woman, who was a non-native speaker, was prodded by her
church leader to say a few words in Spanish, she exclaimed, Estoy
muy embarazada. And turning to point at her leader, added, Y la
culpa es de l! (She thought she was saying, I am very embarrassed
and it is all his fault! Instead, she had exclaimed, I am very pregnant,
and it is all his fault!)
Punctuality can also have cultural connotations. Sometimes it is a
matter of communication, however. During a visit to Brazil a
multicultural diversity scholar developed a clever way of determining
how punctual he had to be on a given engagement, by asking: Hora
brasileira? (Brazilian time?) If the answer was yes, he knew the event
would not be expected to start on time. This did not mean Brazilians did
not know how to be prompt. When meeting time was more critical, they
would specify either Hora inglesa (British time), meaning, on time, or
Hora alem (German time), calling for strict punctuality. In Japan
time may take on an even stricter meaning: a group of international
visitors was asked to attend a reception honoring a Japanese dignitary.
At the precise appointed time, the Japanese hosts closed the doors,
locking out all the non-punctual guests.19 A business or pleasure traveler
today would do well to expect changes in what are considered issues of
punctuality compared to ten or fifteen years ago, however.
At times it may appear that some individuals, especially when there
are social or ethnic differences, do not participate in conversations as
easily. This is not because they do not have ideas to contribute, but
rather, because these individuals may need a little convincing that their
ideas would be valued. Once this floodgate of ideas is opened, it will be
difficult to stop them.




In some sub-cultures, once a person has given an opinion, others are

unlikely to contradict it. That is why some organizations ask their least
senior members to give an opinion first, as few will want to contradict
the more seasoned members. Setting up the discussion from the
beginning as one where all ideas are welcome and valued, can be very
fruitful. It is worth building family and organizational cultures where
ideas are examined for their value, rather than for who offered them.
Such a culture requires individuals to look for the good in ideas they do
not espouse, as well as the potential pitfalls in those they advocate.
There are cultural and ideological differences and it is good to have
an understanding about a cultures customs and ways. But the danger
comes when we act on some of these generalizations, especially when
they are based on faultyor no longer currentobservation. Acting on
generalizations about such matters as eye contact, personal space, touch,
and interest in participation can have serious negative consequences.
Cross-cultural and status barriers
Often, observations on cultural differences are based on our own
weakness and reflect our inability to connect with a given culture.
Cross-cultural observations can easily be tainted and contaminated by
other factors. Perceived status differences can create barriers between
cultures and even within organizations. Only through equality of respect
between races and nations can we reach positive international relations
in this global economy (as well as peace at home). Cultural and ethnic
stereotypes do little to foster this type of equality.
Breaking through status barriers can take time and effort. As we
interact with others of different cultures, there is no good substitute for
receptiveness to interpersonal feedback, good observation skills,
effective questions, and some horse sense. There is much to be gained
by seeing how people of the same culture interact with each other. Do
not be afraid to ask questions. Most people respond very positively to
inquiries about their culture. Ask a variety of people so you can get a
balanced view.

Each of us negotiates our way through life. While there are no easy
answers that will fit every negotiation need, there are some important
principles that will help us become more effective. Negotiation skills
call for careful understanding of the issues involved, ability to break
down big issues into smaller ones, caring about the needs of others as
well as our own, and focusing first on the problem rather than the
solution, to name a few.


At the core of creative negotiation is the idea that it is possible for

everyone to get more of what they need by working together. The
foundation of effective problem solving is understanding the challenge.
Otherwise, it is all too easy to build solutions on a false foundation.
After such understanding, creative negotiation involves looking for the
hidden opportunities presented by these challenges.
Interpersonal relationships affect our success with people and can
help us avoid or defuse conflict. Strokes tend to validate a persons
sense of worth. Most people expect some stroking exchange, or ritual,
before getting down to business. Being able to hold a conversationa
key interpersonal skillis based on the participants ability to give and
Everyone brings a set of inputs or assets to a job or relationship.
Little trouble may occur as long as there is agreement about the value of
these assets. Individuals who want to preserve the benefits of their
inputs, whether personal or organizational, need to value those held by
Making a genuine effort to find the positive historical, literary, and
cultural contributions of a society; learning a few polite expressions in
another persons language; and showing appreciation for the food and
music of another culture can help us become more effective negotiators.
Differences between cultures and peoples are real and can add
richness (and humor) to the fabric of life. Yet, people everywhere have
much in common, such as a need for affiliation and love, participation,
and contribution.
To become an effective negotiator, doing right has to become more
important than being right (in the sense of winning). There is a great
amount of satisfaction in being able to give the soft answer (A soft
answer turneth away wrath20). This is a journey that one embarks in,
the challenge of which is so difficult, that one can never truly say, I
have arrived.
As we practice creative negotiation, faith in our ability to turn
challenges into opportunities will increase. This self-confidence will
help us focus on problem solving and reduce the chances of falling back
on contention, negative emotion or competitive negotiation.
Now we turn to Part II of the book, where we are introduced to two
stakeholders, Nora and Rebecca. We have the opportunity to first
accompany them into the pre-caucuses and then to their joint session.

1. Berne, E. (1964). Games People Play: The Psychology of Human
Relationships, New York: Grove Press, Inc. Also see Berne for a discussion
on stroke intensity, cultural differences, and dysfunctional communication




2. Berne, E. (1964). Games People Play: The Psychology of Human

Relationships, New York: Grove Press, Inc.
3. Nichols, M. P. (1995). The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can
Improve Relationships (p. 14). New York: The Guilford Press.
4. Benjamin, A. (1974). The Helping Interview (2nd Edition) (p. 44). Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company.
5. Nichols, M. P. (1995). The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can
Improve Relationships (p. 61). New York: The Guilford Press.
6. Elgin, S. (1983). More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense. Englewood
Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall Inc.
7. Dobson, M. (1991, July 17). How to Solve Communication Problems. Fred
Pryor Seminar. Stockton, California.
8. Dobson, M. (1991, July 17). How to Solve Communication Problems. Fred
Pryor Seminar. Stockton, California.
9. Elgin, S. (1983). More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense. Englewood
Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall Inc.
10. Fisher, R., and Ury, W. (1981). Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement
Without Giving In. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
11. Alavi, K. Personal communication.
12. Forester, John. (2003). Responding to Critical Moments With Humor,
Recognition, and Hope. There are various editions of this paper, including
one found in: http://people.cornell.edu/pages/jff1/Pon.htm
13. Swann, W. B., Jr., (1996). Self-Traps: The Elusive Quest for Higher SelfEsteem (p. 47). New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.
14. Sloane, A. A., and Witney, F. Labor Relations (4th Edition) (pp. 205-206).
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersery: Prentice-Hall Inc.; and Peterson, W. (April
1991). Ideas Have Consequences. Commencement Address to Harvard
Business School Alumni. The Freeman, a publication of the Foundation for
Economic Education, Inc., (Vol. 41, No. 4) in Liberty Haven Website.
Note: In recent years there have been some very positive developments in
the field of negotiation, including union-management relations. These
positive changes, which have in no way been universally adopted, have
come about as a result of an interest-based negotiation approach.
15. Rackham, N. (1999). The Behavior of Successful Negotiators, in Lewicki
et. al. (Editors). Negotiation: Readings, Exercises, and Cases (3rd Edition)
(p. 347). Burr Ridge, Illinois: Irwin.
16. Rothman, J. (1997). Resolving Identity-Based Conflict in Nations,
Organizations, and Communities (pp. xii, xiii). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
17. Sperber, P. (1983). Fail-Safe Business Negotiating (pp. 10-21). Englewood
Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall, in Lewicki et. al. (Editors); Negotiation:
Readings, Exercises, and Cases (1993) (2nd Edition) (p. 173). Burr Ridge,
Illinois: Irwin.
18. Follett, M.
19. Corts, C. (1991, March 7). Cultural Shock: Managing a Diversified
Workforce. Agricultural Personnel Management 11th Annual Forum.
Modesto, California.
20. Proverbs 15:1

University of California
Helping Others Resolve Conflicts: Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800




Nora and Rebecca
Nora, a microbiologist, and Rebecca, a chemist, have had a
longstanding conflict. Both are degreed professionals employed by a
medium sized analytical laboratory near the California coastline, and
occasionally need to work together on a project. They are both at the
same organizational level, under Ken Matsushita, the laboratory
manager, with neither of them being the others supervisor. Ken
Matsushita asked the author for help resolving this conflict.
Over the years, the analytical lab has gained a reputation as an
excellent employer. As a result it has attracted some of the best in the
field. A generally relaxed and collegial working atmosphere has
prevailed at the lab. In recent years, with the downturn in the California
economy, business has been sluggish. Some of the professional staff
have been asked to pitch in with tasks formerly carried out by
employees no longer working for the operation.
Rebecca and Nora are extremely bright individuals, but they have
been very invested in this conflict, which has lasted over twenty years.
On a more personal note, both women are sports and outdoor oriented,
which is what attracted them to this particular firms location in the first
place. Both have children of about the same age and both have a passion
for their chosen profession. As we get to know these two women better,
one cannot help noting that they could have well been good friends.
Rebecca is a people person. She is a close
friend to all the other women in the lab,
participating with them outside of work hours.
While Rebecca and Nora work at the same
organizational level, Ken Matsushita has given
Rebecca an additional responsibility: that of
collecting data for a year-end report from all
the other lab professionals, including Nora.
Rebecca defines the conflict as one, where no
matter what approach she has tried, Nora has
not cooperated with her. Rebecca feels that


Nora always seems too busy and too wrapped up in her work to respond
to Rebeccas requests. As a result, Rebecca has wasted much time trying
to pry the information out of Nora. As we meet Rebecca during her first
pre-caucus, we sense a person who is trying hard to keep emotion out of
the interaction. As the mediator listens to Rebecca it becomes clear that
she has been somewhat hurt by her past exchanges with Nora. Rebecca
feels that Nora shouts at her, and points out that she is the only one that
Nora treats this way.
Nora is a task oriented person. She has been very absorbed by her
work and at first almost seems surprised that there
is a conflict. Much of what Nora speaks of is
about how busy she is. Nora has so many ongoing projects that Ken Matsushita has frequently
assigned one or two people to assist her. Nora
explains how these projects, and the less-thandependable help, have made it difficult for her to
respond to Rebeccas requests. Like Rebecca,
Nora also has kept her emotions very much at
check. There is a very light tone to most of her
comments, and Nora speaks during much of her
pre-caucuses with a smile. Only when Nora
speaks about how she feels left out of conversations held by the other
professional women in the lab, does it becomes clear that she also has
been hurt by her interactions with Rebecca. While Nora is very much a
task oriented individual, she has a deep need to not be at odds with
others. During their pre-caucuses, both women explain that they wanted
to be treated with respect by the other, but that they are not looking for
We have already spoken about the mechanics of the pre-caucus or
preliminary session. In the second half of the book, we provide some
annotated dialogue from one mediation. Some of the facts surrounding
this case have been purposely kept vague, or altered, in order to protect
confidentiality. For the sake of brevity, the conversations were abridged,
mostly deleting repetitive comments.
The mediator meets with Rebecca first. After a quick greeting
exchange, both sit down in a comfortable conference room that has been
provided to them. The room has no distractions other than some
pleasing paintings of ocean scenes.
Although we refer to the mediator in the singular, the third-party role
was carried out by a mediation team, including the author. The
intention, with this work, is not to analyze the effectiveness of the




mediator interventions. Rather, the purpose of inviting the reader into

the mediation room is to show how stakeholders can manage to do most
of the talking and negotiating when they are allowed to do so.
It would be nice to re-arrange the comments of the stakeholders so
they progressed from one thought to another in a systematic way. But
that would distort the reality of this case. Instead, the reader will often
note that a topic seems to be all but concluded, when the stakeholder
will bring up issues of concern again. Having the conversations filmed
may have exacerbated this phenomena. A stakeholder may have finished
her official stance on camera but once the camera went off, continued
with some issues, sometimes really pouring her heart out. In a number
of instances, stakeholders agreed to bring up an issue again, in front of
the camera, so it could be properly captured. Much of this process is not
only about hearing each of the parties, but about each of the
stakeholders hearing themselves.
Mediation is a flowing and changing process rather than a rigid one.
I was left with some questions and ideas about further refinement of the
process. Such as the possibility of yet another pre-caucus, or the use of a
caucus after the joint session had begun. Or, the possibility of returning
to the stakeholders later, with an analysis of their own communication
style, and so on. Each mediator will have to take every case and
determine what is the best way to proceed.
As a mediator or reader, you will likely have varied reactions to
Nora and Rebecca. These impressions probably will mature as you join
the pre-caucuses and then observe Rebecca and Nora through the joint
session. Perhaps, you may come to sympathize more with one than the
other. Hopefully, you will see the inherent good in both of these women
as well as some of the challenges each has to face. Although we only
allude to them, each stakeholder has had to work to overcome past
abusive relationships. Partly based on your own life story, you may
disagree with some of the analyses provided along with the dialogue.
And it is this last point that needs to be underscored. Mediators do react
to stakeholders and do form an impression of them. In traditional
mediation third parties wield much power and their opinions and biases
may greatly affect outcomes. What becomes clear through this new
approach, however, is that when stakeholders have first been adequately
listened to by the mediator, they are then capable of conversing with
each other with little mediation interference. And as a result,
stakeholders build their own solutions and outcomes.


As readers examine the transcripts they may sometimes find it
difficult to keep Rebecca and Nora separate in their minds. We have
provided a visual cue with some of the summary comments as they
relate to each stakeholder, for the reader to turn to.





















University of California
Helping Others Resolve Conflicts
Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800

Rebeccas First Pre-Caucus
I have found that even when stakeholders are supposed to have
received an overview of what to expect from the mediation, that they
seldom have a good understanding of what is about to take place. The
mediator begins by sharing an overview of the mechanics and
philosophy: (1) that the mediator meets with each party separately; (2)
that after listening to each party the mediator prepares them to face the
other stakeholder; (3) that both stakeholders will meet together when
they are ready, and speak directly to each other; and (4) that the
mediator is not there to decide who is right or wrong.
Mediator Rebecca, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to work
with you. Last week I mailed some reading materials for you to take a
look at. I wanted to review just a couple of points and see if you have
any questions. I will meet with you first and listen with the idea of
trying to understand the conflict from your perspective. [The mediator
smiles frequently and speaks in a reassuring tone.]
Rebecca OK [Rebecca interjects several OK's as the mediator
speaks and concludes each thought. The tone of each interjection is one
that shows cooperation, understanding, and agreement. The mediator is
not stopping, but rather, going through a checklist of preliminary matter
he wants to share with each stakeholder.]
Mediator The first step is to understand you, the way you want me
to understand you. After listening to you, one of my jobs will be to
prepare you to meet with Norawhen you feel ready to do so. At this
point I want to underscore that I am not here to judge, or decide who is
right. Rather, I see my role as helping each of you by sharing tools and
negotiation skills that will help you present your perspective and listen
to each other, and hopefully solve the challenge you are both facing. I
will be taking notes, so I can make sure I am understanding you
correctly. If you need to take a break at any time, just let me know. Do
you have any questions for me at this time?
Rebecca Thanks for asking, not at the moment.


Searching for the problem

Mediator OK, we are ready to begin. So, tell me, from your
perspective ... what has happened ...
Rebecca Obviously I can only explain from my perspective.
Rebecca wants to appear cooperative, and shows insight. For every
challenge there are at least two perspectives. This type of best-footforward and cooperation are elicited through the pre-caucus.
Mediator Right, exactly.
Rebecca Do you want me to kind of outline the problem ...
Mediator Right, m-hm. Start there and we can go into more detail
as we need to.
Rebecca Ken Matsushita, the analytical lab manager, delegated the
completion of a year-end report to me. Each person in the team had to
do his or her part, but it was my job to collect all that information and
edit it into a coherent piece. [Rebecca seems calm, and from time to
time smiles and laughs a little as she goes into further detail, much of
which is deleted from this narrative. The point here is that Rebecca
seems to feel good about telling her side of the story.]
Mediator [As Rebecca speaks the mediator lets her know he is
listening, with such words as , right, or m-hm.]
Rebecca Nora had a lab tech working for her, to whom she had
delegated her portion of the writing. I had not received the report so I
spoke to her, left a couple of messages taped to her door, e-mailed her
with a copy to Ken, and I brought it up at staff conference, so I felt I
had given her ample notice that this need to be done. We all have to do
our part. I had spent several days working on this and felt this was a
reasonable request. So ... thats the issue.
Mediator [Silence as mediator finishes writing down some notes.]
Still nothing has been done?
Rebecca No.
Mediator OK.
Rebecca And this has been ... easily a couple of months now.
Mediator Is this an isolated instance or are there others?
Rebecca There was another instance where I needed her
cooperation. When I spoke to her, she actually yelled at me and got very
upset. And I got upset then, because I was given a secondary job
helping Ken ... dont shoot the messenger. I felt it was very
unprofessional behavior and that I did not deserve that. I just wanted to
check it off my list. And so that issue was turned over back for Ken to
deal with. Its no ones highest priority and maybe that is why its not
done. Ken has so much to do, and I just wanted to help so he would not
have to worry about this, also.


It took about twelve minutes to come to some understanding of what

was wrong, in very general terms, from Rebeccas perspective. In
contrast, when mediators let stakeholders get their feelings off their
chest, most individuals can speak for a long period of time with very
little mediator prompting.
A good way to test the waters, and check if a stakeholder feels he
has sufficiently unburdened his feelings, is to ask the person for the
positive qualities about the other. Such a question is usually asked
towards the end of the pre-caucus after a person feels heard by the
mediator. Here, it seemed as an appropriate time to ask Rebecca, as she
appeared to be finished with what she had to say.
Admirable qualities of opposite stakeholder
Mediator What are some positiveso that we can look at the
positive side as wellwhat are some positive things you admire in
It clear that there is much that has not been said, in spite of
Rebeccas calm demeanor. Rebecca suggests that this is about issues,
not about feelings.
Rebecca [Her face shows some surprise.] I am not sure what that
has to do with an issue or resolving an issue. We talked about a specific
problem with a start and hopefully a finish at some time. I do not
understand what positive or negative feelings towards Nora have to do
with it.
Mediator In preparing to bring the two of you togetherwhich is a
goal of this processwe want this not to just be about the issues
involved, but feel that having mutual positive qualities brought out will
help ...
Rebecca So, there is, like, a technique that you are trying ...
Mediator It may help to ... yes.
Rebecca But, but from my position, I feel ... Ive done ... what I
can to do my job. [Hopeless] Ive done what I can. I do not think there
is going to be a response from Nora.
Mediator By having both of you meet together, not now, but when
you are ready, some of these points may be brought up and discussed.
Maybe we wont reach a solution. But maybe we will be able to.
Considering positive attributes about each other may help us reach a
positive solution.
Rebecca listens intently. The mediator attempts to answer Rebeccas
concerns. It does not mean that Rebecca has nothing positive to say, but
rather, that she does not understand how that is going to help.


Rebecca [Looks absorbed in deep thought and unsure what to say.]

Mediator [Laughs gently.]
Rebecca OK, this could happen. [Rebecca says this in a joyful
tone, to match the mediators laughing.]
Mediator So, do you have any positive qualities you admire in
Rebecca Em, I dont really know Nora very well personally ... I
know her as a colleague in the lab. So I cant make any sort of
comments on personal sort of things as I am not really aware of them.
Our work issues do not connect much, so I dont really interact with her
on work issues, so the only things were I interact with her are related to
using the same equipment or sharing space, and that sort of thing. I am
assuming that she does ... just fine. She has been here for a long time
and has a lot of experience and does a good job of helping her clients.
The mediator now knows that Rebecca is not ready to think about
positive things to say about Nora. The first part of Rebeccas statement
implies a lack of personal knowledge about Nora. Later we shall hear
comments that show the opposite to be true. The second half of
Rebeccas comments, I am assuming are certainly not ones that the
mediator can take to the bank. They could do more harm than good in a
joint session. Such a response tells the mediator that there is a lot more
than what the first few minutes of the conversation have yielded. There
are other hidden issues, or at the very least the conflict has lasted so
long, that Rebecca is not able to humanize or validate anything about
Nora. The mediator then attempts to elicit further comments from
Rebecca, about the conflict. He does so by reflecting on something
Rebecca had said earlier in the conversation. The mediators reflective
comment is picked up immediately by Rebecca.
Rebecca Well, as I said ... we have lost a lot of people ... support
staff ... and now there are things around here that the professional staff
have to take responsibility for, such as keeping lab areas clean, because
we share ... and that is an issue if a person does not see that as part of
their responsibility. Just as important as doing another part of their job.
Although the mediator got Rebecca speaking again about the
conflict, her comments were few. It seemed, at least for the moment,
that there was nothing more to say.
Preparing stakeholder for joint session
Mediator OK, I will be meeting with Nora individually and then
the goal is to bring the two of you together.
Rebecca [Agreeing] Yes.


Mediator The two of you will actually be sitting as you and I are
now, where you can have eye contact. I will be down towards the end of
the table because the goal is for the two of you to meet together and
talk. It will be helpful, when you meet, if you will each use each others
Rebecca I do not have a problem with that.
Mediator It also will hopefully help with the eye contact and keep
it on a personal basis because sometimes when there is a third party, and
there is a difference of opinion, one or both may start to look at the third
party instead of at each other. As we are going towards this goal of a
joint session, one thing to keep in mind, is trying to find positive
qualities about each other. For youto summarizethis is basically a
simple issue: you want Nora to provide you with her part of the writeup, so you can turn in the report. The issue may be small to Norashe
does not want to be bothered with the write-upor there may be other
underlying issues. As she comes to the table, one thing to keep in mind
is how she is going to respond, or feels she needs to respond. We talked
about helping someone save face. If Nora comes to the table feeling she
just has to turn in her write-up and hasnt done it, she may feel that she
has to come in and say, I was wrong. This may seem simple but for
some people it may not be. As we look at this, if we keep in mind that it
may not be the simple issue we, or you, feel it is.
Rebecca OK [Throughout, Rebecca has been nodding or saying
OK, letting the mediator know she is understanding.]
The mediator is preparing Rebecca for the eventuality that for Nora,
the issue runs deeper than what it seems at present, and to keep an open

After the camera was turned off, it became clear that Rebecca had
other issues related to the conflict that were affecting her deeply. The
mediator listened to Rebecca for a considerable time. The fact that
Rebecca was hesitating to deal with the positive aspects of Nora
confirmed that despite the the apparent simplicity of the conflict
situation, that Rebecca was not anywhere ready to meet with Nora in a
joint session. A conversation took place about issues of interpersonal
relations, so it was recognized that the conflict was more than about
unfinished reports, or about getting Noras cooperation.
Eventually, when the stakeholders are ready for the joint session,
they will be discussing mostif not allof the issues discussed in precaucus. It helps to prepare the parties. The element of surprise is not of
much use, and can actually be harmful. For this reason, the mediator


elicited the permission of each party, beginning with the next pre-caucus
(Chapter 7, with Nora), to share some things with the other. While
elements of shuffle mediation may be taking place, there is a big
difference between this approach and shuffle mediation. In shuffle
mediation, the mediators attempt to help the parties solve a problem
without necessarily ever facing each other. And so they take a proposal
from one stakeholder and discuss it with the other, and prepare a
counter proposal, and so on. Here, the purpose of sharing issues ahead
of time is to prepare each party to face each other. This is especially
important when the parties self-esteem may be particularly low.

University of California
Helping Others Resolve Conflicts
Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800

Noras First Pre-Caucus
The mediator gives Nora a similar introduction to what was provided
Rebecca in the previous chapter. Then, he invites Nora to tell him about
the conflict. The mediator prompts Nora several times and asks
questions to get her going, which once again is unusual. Most
stakeholders are more than eager to tell their story.
Searching for the problem
Nora [Smiling] OK, I am sorry to appear a little bit clueless, but I
am not sure [now laughing as she speaks] what the issue is.
Mediator Something about a write-up?
Nora [Smiling, and nodding her head] OK, the first time I was
aware of this situation was when Ken Matsushita took us all to pizza a
month ago. Rebecca suggested that the data for my part of the report
was due.
Mediator So that was the first time you were aware that this was
an issue?
Nora [Still smiling] That somehow there was an issue and that I
was somehow involved in it.
Mediator Since then, have you gained a better understanding of
what the issue was?
Nora A little bit ... I have an assistant who was preparing the
write-up, I honestly dont know who prepared the write-up.
Mediator It was turned in?
Nora I dont know if it has been turned in. Ive been to the lab
recently and saw some of the paperwork there. I can probably take care
of it, if there is an expectation that this is something I was supposed to
do ... or even if there isnt an expectation that it is me that is supposed
to do it.
Mediator Right.
Nora But if I am supposed to do it, then someone needs to tell me
that I am supposed to do that, because I really had no idea.


At this point in the narration, traditionally oriented mediators may be

saying, Aha, you see, one of them is lying and if they were both
together they would not lie in front of the other stakeholder. The whole
issue of selective hearing comes into play. I, for one, believe that each
of the stakeholders was telling the truth. My oldest son and his wife left
a few pets for us to take care of. When, during that same period my
wife left for Utah with one of my daughters, it fell on me to take care of
the pets: two exotic Bengal cats and a killer fish. I was so worried about
the instructions on how to care for the cats, that when my wife told me I
need not worry about changing the water for the fish during her short
absence, my mind translated that as, dont worry about the fish. I
never heard her when she told me to feed the fish twice a day.
Fortunately, after two or three days it dawned on me that the fish needed
to be fed. The fish did not die, but I do need to tell you how badly I felt.
Just because we transmit information it does not mean someone else has
the receiver on.
Mediator So you are not clear ...
Nora Or why this even involves me. I havent had time, and
actually I assigned one of my assistants, but I have had some pretty
flaky help. [Nora goes on to say that she is presently without any help
and that they left her a lot to do. She has retained a smile throughout all
of this conversation.] I have more urgent things to do right now, such as
dealing with samples that are in danger of getting lost. I really dont
understand the dynamics of why, all of a sudden, this turned into a
Mediator So far we have focused on the write-up ... Is there more
to this issue, or some other underlying matter?
Nora I ... I would have to suspect, because the write-up is just one
of a number of things that have become issues, not really for me, but I
suppose more for other people. How can I say it? Sometimes it is really
busyyou know, I have a lot going onand at times it can appear
untidy because, em, well you know what the Bible says [see Proverbs
14:14], that when you do not have any cows you have clean barns.
Mediator [Laughs along with Nora.]
Nora But, there are advantages to having cows. So sometimes I
have a lot of cows, and sometimes, when I have people working for me,
I cant always control if they know they are not supposed to put
something in a specific lab bench .... But, then someone comes to me
and says, Your stuff is in that bench! ... OK, Ill go find them and tell
them they are not allowed to put it in that bench. Even under the best of
circumstances we may have samples coming in faster than we can
process them and make a mess.
Here, Nora tells a story about how she sometimes has to deal with
Fred (another co-worker) and his spillovers into her space. Nora


explains that there usually is an exchange of friendly banter with Fred,

but that in the end they arrive at solutions that do not involve escalation
of negative feelings. As a stakeholder, Nora wants to present herself as a
reasonable person, with a certain amount of patience for others, as well
as a sense of humor.
Nora I know that my stuff tends to crawl around, a bit like an
octopus that takes more space that it ought to. But if someone comes to
me, we can try and find a solution. Likewise, with this issue on the
write-up, making a big to do about this strikes me as being a little
excessive. [Nora is smiling again as she concludes the second half of
these comments.]
Mediator A little excessive ...
Nora Yea, a little excessive, especially since I had no clue that
there were some expectations here. This was news to me, especially
since, as soon I became aware of it, I told my assistant, Hey, next time
you are in the lab, take care of this. But the assistant flaked out and left
me with this and a whole bunch of other things.
Mediator In addition to what you have ...
Nora In addition to the rest of my work, yes.
Mediator [Silence]
Nora And ... I guess ... I guess I could also say that it really hasnt
occupied a great deal of my thought processes ... and it is not something
I can deal with. And I can only deal with the things I can deal with and I
can do something about. I recognize that someone else may be stewing
about it ... but unless they come to me ... it wont make my priority list.
Mediator It wont make the list.
Nora No, there are too many things that are not making the list that
really are important.
Mediator Anything else?
Nora [Long silence]. Um ... I dont think so. Its just if something
is an issue, you know, rather than freaking out over it, why cant we just
talk about it?
Mediator [Summarizes what has been said so far and Nora lets him
know that the summary is accurate. She also goes on to repeat some of
what she has said before.]
Nora As far as I am concerned, the work of others at the lab is just
as important as mine. I really do believe that. Now, I can understand
how some people might have a different perception because ... if I am
using part of the workspace that belongs to the community, then they
can say, She really doesnt care about my work because she is hogging
the workspace. I dont feel that way, but we have to talk about it, and
then we have to find a way to get everyones stuff done even though it
may not be perfect for everybody, but we can find a way to do that.


Mediator Find a way of working it out ...

Nora Its not going to be perfect but ... [Once again, Nora has a
chance to expand and explain what she is thinking and feeling,
repeating much of what his been said earlier.]
Mediator [The conversation seems over and the mediator asks
Nora for positive qualities about Rebecca.]
Admirable qualities of opposite stakeholder
Nora Rebecca really cares about people. She has very good um,
people skills. In terms of really caring about people and being
empathetic and sympathetic ... I remember the time when our whole
staff was doing a personality profile. Almost every single person in the
lab came out task oriented, a get-the-job-done type ... personality ... of
one permutation or another. She was the only person who scored way
high in relational skills. And, I think her way of getting stuff done was
to build partnerships and camaraderie. Everyone else was more, we will
take logical steps and accomplish things.
Mediator Get the job done.
Nora Get the job done. She was the only one who scored really
highly on we are going to make relationships. And I think that is
really neat! I think that is really important in this lab.
The conversation turns to other topics for a while, but Nora has
some things she is still feeling.
Nora I guess one thing that people may find a positive thing or
somewhat annoying ... this whole thing about the write-up, and a lot of
these other things. I recognize that Rebecca might really be stewing
about this stuff. Because I did not meet an expectation ... and I have to
admit that I really have not thought about it, and it really is not that I do
not care, but its just that, um, I guess one of the things I have learned in
life is to not run away from conflict, or anything like that, its not that I
dont care about how other people feel, but not to let other peoples
problems, other peoples feelings, other peoples issues, dictate whether
I am going to be functional, and happy, and make good decisions and
good choices. Ive had enough experience with really negative people in
my life. [Nora speaks about that.] Now, I have to make a decision. Am I
going to let my good day and my good mood be trashed because a
person comes in with negative baggage? Make me have a bad mood too,
and make me have a crummy day? No! I was in a good mood before
you walked in the door, and I am going to be in a good mood when you
leave, because I have work to do and because I have a life to live, and I
want to chose to be happy. And it doesnt mean that I am afraid of


conflict, and it doesnt mean that I wont work with you, but if you are
coming with a lot of emotional baggage and an expectation that I am
going to somehow ... I dont know exactly how to say it ... I will work
with you but I am not going to let somebody elses issues control my
life. Does that make sense?
Mediator You are not going to let someone elses issues ...
Nora So, um, ... that is just a choice I have to make for me. It may
look like I dont care. Its not that I dont care. Its just that I have a lot
that I have to get done. If I let myself go into a tailspin because
someone else is ticked at me, I cant function. Ill put your issue on my
list and when I get to that point on my list, I will do something about it.
But Im not going to let it affect my dealing with all the other issues on
my plate. [Long pause.] I cant. I have to live.
Mediator Separating issues from emotions ...
Nora Yeah ... But I am not going to beat myself up ... I have too
many other things I could potentially beat myself up on. If I spend my
life beating myself up for all my imperfections and all the expectations
that other people have on me that I cant possibly meet, I would
collapse. So, I want to be in control of what is on my list. Ultimately, I
have to choose what is on my list, and what I can get done in a day.
The conversation between Nora and the mediator continued. At one
point, Nora tells of a specific life-changing event where she learned to
be less defensive, and focus more on her work, instead. The mediator
then coaches Nora on how to present her case effectively in the joint
session. Just when the pre-caucus session seemed over, Nora thinks of a
particular situation that may well have been the key to the escalation of
her conflict with Rebecca.
The Larry incident
Nora Let me bring up another issue which actually is far more ... I
think where the conflict really started ... and this happened quite a while
ago ... where I think my conflict with Rebecca really started to escalate.
Nora seems relaxed, but her former smile is gone. Nora goes into a
long and detailed explanation as to how a former lab assistant, Larry,
had been assigned by Ken Matsushita to work for Nora full time.
Unfortunately, the timing could not have been worse. Both Rebecca and
Nora thought they had signed up for Larrys help. They both needed
Larry in a critical way. We pick up the conversation at this point.
Nora Rebecca came to me and said, I had him signed up, you
didnt, and I really need him, and I said, It may be a moot point
anyway because I think that Ken has assigned Larry to me full time.


And what I was going to do, in the next sentence I was going to say, I
really need him this day, but because you have these things that have to
get done, why dont we work it out so that maybe tomorrowor, I had
already blocked out the timewe can have Larry help you, even if he
has been formally assigned to me. But before I could get these words
out of my mouth ... she ... wrote me off, you know, as soon as I said it
was going to be a moot point anyway because he is going to be working
for me, she blew up, stormed out of the room, refused to speak to me
the rest of the day. Or the next two days, even though Larry and I tried
to find her to tell her, Hey, if you want some time we will get this
done. But she wouldnt speak to me, she was so angry with me, and
said, The only persons work you care about is your own. And I never
had a chance, because she would never listen to me, so I know her
husband had to come and help her on Saturday and it was a big fiasco.
And I would have helped her, but she ... she left ... and would not speak
to me any more. And I think that ever since then shes just been on my
case as being a selfish person who only cares about my own work.
Anyway, I think that this incident has really affected all those other
incidents, and I would really like to get it straightened out. Because its
really bothered me that Ive never been able to, you know, set this
record straight on that and I just have sensed that she hasnt been, um,
as forgiving to me since then.
Mediator U-hm.
Nora And I dont blame her from her standpoint, but thats not the
way I saw things and I have never been able to set the record right.
Mediator It goes back to the issue of communication.
Nora And not being able to finish my sentence on that one day.
Mediator Right.
Nora We tried. [Smile appears again, as she lifts up her hands.]
Time for a joint session?
After some more conversation between Nora and the mediator, the
mediators asks:
Mediator Weve met with both of you on an individual basis. The
next step is to determine if it will be beneficial to bring both parties
together. How do you feel about meeting with Rebecca ...? are you
ready for that ...?
Nora Mmm [sounds as if she is thinking hard about this].
Mediator Or, are you at a point where we may still meet
individually for another session ... or ...
Nora Well, I really like having right relationships [smiles to this
point, after which she continues without smiling]. And I admit that
because of Rebeccas emotional response to me in the past ... um, it


make me nervous to actually sit down with Rebecca and try to be

understood. I have just had such bad luck with that on a number of
occasions [smiles about this] that it really made me kind of leery of that.
Ive got lots of stress in my life and that is one I really dont want to
have to deal with, but ... it is much more important to me to have right
relationships with Rebecca ... and I will do whatever it takes to make
sure that ... as far as I can ... that there may be peace and
communication. I really like the idea of doing this in a controlled
situation, I guess ... and all I can do is give it my best shot ... even
though for me it is a very uncomfortable thing ... because I dont like
other peoples emotional stuff dumped on me. Ive gotten pretty good at
shedding it ... but it does not mean I dont care, you know what I mean.
Mediator M-hm.
Nora You know ... but my own feelings on that are not nearly as
important as my desire to get it right.
Mediator OK. If we ...
Nora But, but ... [emphatically] OK, I am going to introduce a
caveat. Im going to lean on your judgment on that because I dont have
a clue as to where shes at. And I dont know how she is going to feel,
and I dont want to make things worse for her and I am not really
concerned about making things worse for me, because, you know ... I
will muddle through regardless of how bad it is for me. I dont want to
make the situation worse. So if you think she is in a place where she
could hear my heart, I would love to hear it.
The mediator prepares Nora for the joint session, explains the sitting
arrangement, eye contact, and other issues, much as was done when
meeting with Rebecca. Nora was very interested. Nora and the mediator
also role played how she would bring up Larrys incident. Although she
was not asked to, Nora finishes her role-play explanation to Rebecca
with an apology. When the mediator mentions the word apology,
however, Nora reacts emotionally. Nora begins some deep soul
searching on the matter of apologies. She tells of a time when she had
been collecting samples and returned to the lab somewhat dehydrated
and had drunk three sodas full of sugar and caffeine, and right after that
exploded at the receptionist who had a message for her about some
trivial issue. Nora speaks about how out-of-character that had been for
her and how the receptionist and herself had been shocked at this
outburst. It was the sugar, Nora explained. She also felt that if the
same situation with Larry took place again, that unless someone handed
her a script on how to handle it better, she would probably have handled
it much the same. Nora felt justified in how she had dealt with the Larry
situation, despite her strong feelings about the unfortunate developments
that surrounded it. Nora speaks about how vulnerable she feels at this
time of her life.


Nora I guess what I was trying to say is that it is hard for me, em,
to ... because I spent so much ... and this has nothing to do with
Rebeccabut its just something that I probably need to work through
on my own. I have a hard time apologizing for ... actions that I know
that I really didnt do anything wrong and yet ... other people are
accusing me of having done that. Em, ... mostly, I guess, because [here
Nora goes on to explain that she has been the subject of verbal abuse
by] a control freak ... who ... just, nothing that I could do was ever right.
So, I am really sensitive about taking blame for something, taking
ownership of a problem that really isnt mine, just for my own mental
health I have to be really careful to not be the cause of everybody elses
problems. I have to retain who I am rather than what other people say I
am. I guess I have built up some walls and defenses that are kindve
fresh and new and I am not really in a place where I am willing to take
a lot of ownership for blame I dont feel I deserve. But I am willing to
take the blame I do deserve, like the situation with the receptionist.
Does this make sense?
The ability to offer and receive apologies is a critical interpersonal
negotiation tool, one discussed by Nora and the mediator. Nora seems
receptive to an example offered by the mediator. A situation where he
felt the need to apologizenot for what he did or saidbut how sorry
he was as to what happened as a result of a conflict. One can apologize
for the situation, rather than have to take blame for what happened.
Nora And I am very sorry about that ... and I am sorry for what it
has led to. And I can do that, but to say that I caused all of that, I cant
do that ... maybe in five years I can do that and it will be OK with me
but right now it is not OK with me.

The mediator agreed to meet again with Rebecca and share some of
the information gathered during Noras pre-caucus. A key purpose for
such a meeting would be to collect information that Rebecca would
allow the mediator to share with Nora. It would take several weeks
before the mediator could meet with Rebecca or Nora, time that
permitted each of the stakeholders to continue their soul searching.

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Helping Others Resolve Conflicts
Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800

Rebeccas Second Pre-Caucus
Mediator To start off with in this session, I wanted to start sharing
some things that Nora wanted me to share with you. I havent shared
anything that you had said with her.
Rebecca And that was OK with her?
Mediator Yes. And she was hoping that maybe down the line, if
you did have something to share with her that you would do that. But
dont worry about that right now, we just wanted to start off with some
of the things she wanted us to share. First off, I asked her the same
question I asked you about positive qualities about the other.
Here the mediator goes on to share with Rebecca the positive
comments we already heard Nora make about Rebecca. Rebeccas
expression to this point has been serious. Rebecca asks the mediator
several questions about Noras comments. She seems to be trying to
decipher if the positive things said about her by Nora were truly
intended as compliments, or not.
The mediator explains that Nora wants to share a situation, if they
get to the joint session, where Nora feels the conflict may have flared.
We pick up the conversation again as Rebecca shares a few instances of
stressful encounters with Nora.
Rebecca One time I asked her an innocent question ... I certainly
had no intentions of attacking her ... and she began to yell at me ... again
the yelling, which I dont like ... I had to tell her that it was
inappropriate for her to be yelling. She does not do this with other
people. At another instance, I spoke to her and again I got yelled at.
There have been a number of these over the years. As a result it makes
me hesitant to approach her. I dont know what sort of reaction I am
going to get. It has never been a positive reaction ... in the sense of
getting some cooperation. Or, I know Ive mentioned to her things like, I
needed some samples movedshe kind of leaves things aroundand
she goes into a lot of detail about her people not doing ... but she wont


take responsibility. Ultimately, it is her responsibility, not her people. I

could go on but I think that is good enough.
The mediator recaps what he has heard, after which Rebecca says:
Rebecca So yeah, it bothers me, it hurts ... it hurts my feelings.
Having a stakeholder admit that something hurts is a positive step
towards needed healing. The conversation continues and the mediator
picks up on something that was said earlier.
Mediator Can you describe how the conflict between the two, this
tension, affects relationships in the lab?
Rebecca Okay [drawing out the word], I can try to answer, Im not
sure I understand exactly. I could give more examples, but I dont think
thats the point. A lot of the interactions that I have had are negative,
and are related to doing my job, such as helping Ken Matsushita with
the year-end report. I have a certain responsibility to the other people in
the lab, and to Ken, to make a little contribution. Not 24/7, but to the
functioning of the lab as a whole, given that we are down in personnel
since our downsizing. Lots of times things get dumped on Kens
assistant, Mike Peck, and people will shout at him, We dont have the
supplies, we dont have the supplies. I am trying to give back a certain
percentage to the good of the order. And in the situation with Nora ...
the fact that I get kindve blindsided ... with this yelling, and that her
behavior towards me is sooo defensive. I immediately feel this ... wall,
or whatever, going up. What I would like her to realize is that this is not
something I am doing personally ... Im not interested in the report, nor
feel as if I owned the lab and want it cleaned up. She has some
obligations to clean up what she has messed up. I dont like her yelling,
and since I am not sure what I am going to get, I dont go out of my
way to engage her. If anything, I go out of my way to avoid contact. Its
very uncomfortable, very defensive. Theres also been some personal
insultsbecause I do contribute to the overall good of the lab
implying ... not implying, stating ... that essentially her job is so
important and every second of her time is so critical ... that only people
like me, that dont have a critical job like she does, that its OK for me
to waste my time on these little things. And thats insulting. Her attitude
towards me, word choices, posture and body languageshe is in my
faceand the yelling all adds up to a situation that I rather avoid and so
there is no real social interaction. I dont ignore her and try and be rude.
But I ... dont go out of my way to have any interaction with her. I guess
that sums it up, I dont know how you would say all that concisely.


The mediator attempts to summarize what has been said, and

Rebecca clarifies her feelings.
Rebecca I dont like being a police officer, so what do I do, take it
to Ken Matsushita? He has enough on his plate, so when things have to
get done I feel I am removing part of his load. She doesnt see herself as
person who is a citizen of this lab and obeys its norms. It doesnt
prevent me from doing my job. At this time it doesnt have much of an
effect on my mood, but it does bother me when these yelling episodes
take place. Just because I see her I dont get upset. Its not that way. So
what am I supposed to do when something is not followed up on? So I
have to go back three or four times ...? And, even when I do, it makes
no difference. It never gets done. I am not sure at this point how you
handle a situation where there is no cooperation whatsoever. I have not
found any effective means to deal with her, obviously.
Mediator A negative situation for you.
Rebecca Well, I imagine for her, as she gets upset.
Mediator Do you have any idea why she may be affected that
way? That she feels that she has to yell or get in your face?
This gentle challenge comes at a time when Rebecca has been
listened to extensively, for more than one hour. Rebecca repeats much of
what she has already expressed, but then seems to come back to the
mediators question.
Rebecca Em, its obvious that there is something that sets her off
... and it may relate to something ... an experience in the past that she
has had with me ... that when she sees me the guards go up, the gates
close, whatever, its something I am not aware off. I dont have an
explanation for why this type of interaction occurs ... but its certainly
uncomfortable for both of us.
This is a key moment in the pre-caucus. Rebecca is certainly trying
very hard to see things from Noras perspective here. After some
conversation, the mediator picks up again, and eventually asks Rebecca
if there is something from this conversation that would be OK to share
with Nora, that may help her better understand the situation.
Rebecca I dont know the value of doing so, why ... or how ...
everything we have spoken about is factual, that she can know, but if
there is something ... I get this really strong sense she does not care
about anything I say or do or ... How my feelings have anything to do
with her, so I really dont see a point with it .... Just based on our
interactions. It is such a shut down. I dont see what the benefit may be


to her. Although you have indicated that she is willing to discuss things,
so, em, that obviously may not be the case, but based on my interactions
that is certainly the opinion, impression she has given me without it
being stated ... if you think ... I dont know how it would help.
Rebecca is trying to cooperate with the mediator, but she has not
given herself permission to think about Nora in such human terms, and
thus keeps focusing on the facts of the case rather than on the
relationship itself. Rebecca makes it clear that she does not have much
confidence that the mediator can do any good by sharing information
with Nora, but is willing to have this done.
The mediator proposes four areas that he would like to share with
Nora, based on todays conversation as well as the previous pre-caucus.
These are: 1. Rebecca has a report to finish, and needs Noras
cooperation to finish it; 2. Nora communicates through yelling and other
dysfunctional approaches; 3. Rebecca feels that Nora treats her
differently than she does others in the laboratory; and 4. Rebecca feels
indignant because it has been implied that Noras job is more important,
and that Rebecca is helping Ken only because her own job is not that
important and that she does not have enough to do. Rebecca approved
the sharing of these points with Nora.
Rebecca expands on each of these issues as the mediator speaks,
correcting some of the wording, and making it clear how burdensome
this conflict has been on her. For instance, after point number one,
Rebecca explains that indeed her report is now seven months late and
has increased her own workload. After the fourth point Rebecca says,
She should be ashamed .... and also, I am angry ..., and This is a
wrong that needs to be addressed.
It is important for the stakeholder to be able to express some of these
frustrations. Before Rebecca could permit herself any validating
thoughts about Nora, the mediator had to listen intently. Much of this
pain had to be explored and expressed. After expressing her frustrations,
Rebecca permits herself a moment of hope.
Rebecca It would be interesting to approach her and have a normal
interchange, and have something resolved ... it would be unbelievable ...
it would be inconceivable to me ... as I have no history of having it any
other way. [Laughing.] If it makes her aware of her behavior ... maybe
she does this in other parts of her life or with other people. I know that
Nora is not ... well, she is a good person, I believe, fundamentally, I
have no doubt about that. I dont consider her ... a mean, vicious type of
person, although some of the behaviors towards me are certainly that
way. I would think that if she would know about that ... I would have
some faith that ... maybe she would see that its not a kindness. I think


that she does have a belief system where she tries to treat people in a
decent way and maybe she will see its inappropriate, just wrong to
make such comments. You dont purposely try and put someone down,
that is my belief system. I just cant understand it.
The mediator gives Rebecca a chance to add to anything she has said
so far.
Rebecca I think we [now begins to laugh] have covered things
pretty thoroughly.
Rebecca speaks some more about what she considers an integral part
of her value system.
Rebecca It is a value of mine: treat people the way you want to be
treated yourself. This is not something I try to do ... it is me ... A very
basic part of my belief system, that every person has value. I believe
that caring about others is almost the most important thing in this planet.
So some of the things that have happened between us have kindve
violated that basic belief system of mine.
While at some points Rebecca seemed almost catatonic, towards the
end of this discussion she has lightened up. At the beginning of the precaucus Rebecca hardly acknowledged the positive things that Nora had
said about her. Now Rebecca does, in a very absolute way, acknowledge
that these positive qualities are not just artificial, but are part of her very
core values. While Rebecca is still in a lot of pain, she has allowed
herself to hear something positive from Nora about herself, and has also
shared something positive about Nora. Perhaps if this conflict had not
lasted over two decades, all of this would have happened faster.
Mediator You have mentioned a few positive attributes about Nora
as we talked, are there any more that come to mind?
Rebecca I think she does a really good job in terms of her
technical knowledge of lab equipment, something I like and admire in
her. We both use some of the same programs, but she has taken her
understanding to a much higher plane. [Rebecca continues, going into
some detail.]
The mediator talks about the goal of bringing both Rebecca and
Nora into a joint session.
Rebecca Obviously the reason Im here is that its hopefully of
value ... Ive said things that really are pretty nasty in some ways, you


know, they are kindve negative, but, in relating experiences ... in my

interpretation. If we can improve the situation, heal the situation, or
whatever words you want to use ... I certainly think thats of value ... I
support that.
It seemed as if the pre-caucus was over, when Rebecca brings up
additional key information.
Rebecca [Cheerfully] I think that people are a product of the
interaction of their individual genetic makeup and their environment.
[Serious but calm] As a product of that interaction there are certain
responses that a person has to situations that appear to them. They exist
and do influence behavior and communication styles. And, all I wanted
to do is to point out, for example, in my case I tend to be ... extremely
... more sensitive than maybe is called for but I do pick up on ... certain
non-verbal cues, tones of voice, things like that, that I kindve go
through and synthesize how I interpret a situation or a person. In my
case ... the behaviors I elicit in Nora, the in-your-face kind of thing,
yelling, negativity, the communication and interaction ... I thought
maybe bringing them out and making both aware of it ... Maybe that
cognizance is going to improve the ultimate results that we get here.
And again, the objective for me would be to establish what I would call
a functional relationship, were the two of us can interact in a
professional level at the lab and get done what needs to get done
without all these negative overtones that come into play ... it is certainly
the pattern, a poor pattern, a destructive pattern.
As Rebecca feels heard, she seems to consider that she may also
have contributed to the negative interpersonal relationship. The
mediator obtains permission to share these additional insights with
Rebecca I have been trying to explain my sensitivities, and then ...
recognizing the fact that she would also have her own ... maybe there is
something that I do ... unconsciously ... that for some reason provokes a
certain response in her. And if thats the case that would be something
we would all need to be aware of, certainly me, so that I can make sure
not to do it.

In this pre-caucus Rebecca feels heard, and is willing to consider
that there may be some relationship issues, not just facts to deal with.

University of California
Helping Others Resolve Conflicts
Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800

Noras Second Pre-Caucus
The mediator opens up with a general question about how things are
going and if Nora has any feelings about the mediation process she has
been participating in.
Nora Things are fine ... the process is fine. Em, Rebecca was nice
to me the other day. I was floored. It was wonderful! [Laughing]
Mediator So maybe there has been ...
Nora I think so.
Mediator ... already some ... changes ...
Nora I think so. Yeah.
Mediator That has been the goal, but we havent brought you
together, so hopefully ... those steps can be taken ....
Nora Yeah. We have had some pleasant exchanges, and that is
Mediator Yes, well good. If you didnt have anything else, I just
wanted to go back ... it has been a little over a month since we met ...
and review a few things with you.
The mediator summarizes Noras comments from her first precaucus, and Nora corrects a few notions but mostly agrees with the
mediators understanding of the situation. Nora thanked the mediator for
the summary.
Mediator And you want to right the relationship, improve the
relationship, but your concern is the emotions that come from Rebecca
Nora Yes.
Mediator Which it sounds as maybe ...
Nora Maybe things are simmering down.
Mediator Right. And we shared with Rebecca the positive things
you said about her. And asked her if there was anything we could share
with you.
Nora OK


Mediator So she also wanted to share the positive things ... she
brought these up before I had a chance to ask her.
Nora Oh, good.
The mediator shares the positive things Rebecca said about Nora,
including Noras strong belief system, that Nora treats people well, and
that Nora has an excellent understanding of lab equipment. Then, the
mediator goes on to explain some of Rebeccas concerns. These include
the fact that Rebecca feels like a cop, in general, when she tries to get
the information from the staff for the report. The mediator explained
that this is a general feeling that Rebecca has, rather than pinpointing
only to Nora. Nora acknowledged how this might be so. We pick up the
conversation as the mediator goes from the general comments to more
specific ones.
Mediator Now, this is something you have already alluded to,
Rebecca gets the impression at times, that you think your work is more
important than hers.
Nora And I can understand how someone may feel like that, but
that doesnt mean its true. Im just expecting others to tell me what
their needs are and we will get it done.
Mediator Talking to each other.
Nora Right, I told you there was a problem there.
Mediator Then the last thing, is, Nora feels you sometimes treat
her differently than other people in the lab. She is not sure if it is
something shes done or the way she responds. And the example
Rebecca gave is that she has heard you raise your voice at her and at
none else.
Nora Mmm .... yeah ... I ... [nodding].
Mediator Those are the areas she wanted to share.
Nora OK, can I give you my responses to ...?
Mediator Yes.
Nora OK, take them one by one and I will respond to them.
Mediator The cop issue.
Nora I think I gave the example of Peppermint Patty getting to be
the crossing guard [laughing]. I think shes mellowed out some on ... on
that ... some people can take their jobs a liiiiiitle bit too seriously. But I
dont know if I would exactly share that with her ....
Nora was able to express her feelings, but realizes that the wording
will have to be changed in order not to offend. This is a valuable aspect
of the pre-caucus.
Mediator The responses you are giving me right now will get
refined later.


Nora We ... we will decide on how we want to respond ... the

official response. [Laughing, then silence] Yes, I understand that shes
got that task. People take on obligations, and I sometimes wonder why
they take these on. Actually the best boss Ive ever had is our present
boss who has the job despite the fact that he didnt want it. Everybody
Ive ever worked for before who wanted that job has been a very
difficult boss to have ... there was a reason why they wanted to be the
boss. While I understand that it is something that needs to be done ...
people take on different things because they have a reason, their own
reason for needing to take those things on. I think she is getting better. If
its truly something that needs to get done, I am as interested as the next
person to make sure it is taken care off.
Mediator Anything more about that?
Nora No. No ... I am part of the team, we will make it work, if it is
really important.
The stakeholder has admitted that there may be a need for change on
her part, without the mediator having to moralize. This is not necessarily
going to happen every time, and in fact, when we come to the joint
session, we shall see this issue develop further.
Mediator Rebecca was concerned that it was implied as well as
directly stated that your work was more important than hers.
Nora Well, well have to get that straightened out.
Mediator OK.
Nora Well have to ... I think I know how that came about so lets
get it fixed.
Mediator Is that back to the Larry ...?
Nora Back to the Larry thing. And if that is not the issue, then lets
find out what the issue is and get it fixed.
Mediator In addition to it being directly stated, she actually had
heard it from others, that you had stated that your work was more
important than hers.
Nora [Pause. Nora, who has been quite cheerful to this moment,
begins to shake her head, raise her eyebrows, and shrug her shoulders as
if searching. She continues in a serous tone.] I dont know how to
respond to that, I dont remember saying something like that ... although
maybe, maybe taken out of context ... I dont know ... but thats not how
I feel , sooo ... well just have to get that fixed, get that straightened out
... sorry if .... [Pause] Now, she is saying that I said that to somebody
else and they said that to her?
Mediator Yes.
Nora Weeell, Ill have to think if there is anything I have ever said
that could have been misconstrued that way. I might have said at one


point ... when I had three people working for me ... that I had more
things going on than other people, which was probably true, but it
doesnt mean it was more important.
The mediator lets Nora know that he is listening, and Nora expands
a bit on what has been said. Noras usual smile returns to her face.
Mediator The last issue, the fact that Nora feels that she is
sometimes treated differently than others in the lab. Wondering if she
does something, or has done something, she feels that you have raised
your voice at her when you havent necessarily at other people.
Nora [With a smile, nodding her head when she speaks.] OK, I
have several responses to that.
Mediator OK.
Nora Ill respond to the example first.
Mediator OK.
Nora Em, first of all, lets define raising my voice. I can think of
two incidents where I was irritated with her ... where she interpreted it
as raising my voice. I would never have called what I did raising my
voice or yelling, she said I was yelling at her. [Nora pauses, raises both
of her hands and still smiling continues.] Believe me, if I want to yell at
somebody, I will yell at somebody. Its not what I did. I know how to
yell at somebody and I dont do it to anyone who is not my child. But ...
that wasnt yelling at her ... yes, there was some annoyance in my voice
when after the third time ... [Nora goes on to recount a situation where
there had been a miscommunication between the two of them. Rebecca
had wanted to discard some older piece of lab equipment and Nora felt
it should be kept. As Nora tells her own story, she raises her voice quite
a bit when it comes to the raising the voice incident.] Yeah, I guess I
did raise my voice but that wasnt what I call yelling at her. I was
annoyed and irritated. [Nora goes on to explain how that same piece of
lab equipment was needed by someone else in the lab a short while after
Rebecca had wanted to discard it. Nora speaks about another situation
where she was irritated at Rebecca, but again would not call what
happened raising her voice.] I would not say that I am treating her
differently, but rather, I seldom have occasion to get annoyed at
anybody else at the lab. Well no ... occasionally I have gotten annoyed
at people working for me, when they have done something really stupid.
Mediator Yeah.
Nora Im not a yeller. But I am capable of being annoyed. So, I go
around yelling at her and not at anybody else? That would be an odd
thing to think.
Up to now, Nora has been trying to preserve her self image for the
mediator. As she speaks and is heard, she will be in a better position to


recognize that even this level of raising her voice may be a problem in
her troubled relationship with Rebecca.
Nora It sounds a little paranoid to me. Now, on the other hand,
where I feel a little paranoid is ... I feel she treats me differently than the
rest of the people in the lab. The specific example is where, besides me,
there are five other professional women in the lab. [More serious, Nora
continues] And somehow, they all seem to know what the others are
doing in the weekend, and where they went, and who went hiking or to
the beach, and who is seeing who. And if I walk up and theres two
people talking, such as Rebecca and Adriana, not only do I not know
what they are talking about, but no one includes me in the conversation.
So, I dont know exactly how that all works. I dont think Ive been
unfriendly to anybody. I certainly dont think Ive been in the loop.
Supposedly, the conflict was about a report, but this shows the
importance of other underlying interpersonal issues.
Mediator Right.
Nora When I try and bust into the loop I dont feel particularly
welcome, particularly when Rebecca is part of that conversation. You
know, Im fine with everyone individually, but I get the impression that
everybody else is doing things with other people, with each other ... and
Im not. Which ... since I tend to be busy its not a huge thing ... Im not
expecting people at the lab to be my friends [begins to smile again], but
on the other hand ... I do feel a little bit left out.
The mediator summarizes very briefly, and asks if there is anything
Nora wishes to add.
Nora Mmm ... I dont think so. Im looking forward to things
getting resolved ... especially if there have been misunderstandings. I
really want to get those taken care off. I may not be able to meet all the
expectations, but we can be clear as to which ones I can meet and which
ones I cant.
Mediator That leads into the next question. Do you feel
comfortable with the idea of a joint session next time we meet: to have
both Rebecca and yourself together?
Nora Sure, we can do that. We can do that. Id like to know the list
of questions ahead of time, of whatever we are going to be discussing.
Realizing, of course, that life does not always follow a list.
Mediator OK, of course.
The mediator asks Nora to come up with two or three expectations
for the joint session.


Nora My personal goals would be, foremost, to communicate to

Rebecca somehow that she is important to me, that her work is
important to me, and that she, as a person, is important to me.
This last comment was expressed in a very sincere, touching way.
The time lapse between the pre-caucuses has permitted the stakeholders
to begin the process of mutual validation. Nora continues with her goals
for the mediation.
Nora And that as an outpour of that, I want to have the air clear
between us, so that the number one goal is not interfered with. Do you
know what I mean? So there is not a miscommunication there. I want to
have some sort of understanding ... if somehow I can establish that as a
baseline ... perhaps then, if other things that may happen as life goes on,
misunderstandings or miscommunications ... that I am not doing things
to deliberately make her life difficult ... maybe then she will cut me
some slack ... in terms of thinking the worst of my intentions. And I
would like her to understand that if she has a need in her work, or
otherwise, if somehow that can be communicated to me we can work it
into the priority list.
Mediator Be able to talk about work or what happens in the
weekend. At this time both of you are hesitant to speak to each other,
not knowing how the other will react.
Nora Right.

When we return, Nora and Rebecca will have a chance to converse
with each other directly, and begin to resolve their own differences.
Much progress has been achieved already. For instance, both women
have recognized that they may be doing something to merit a negative
reaction from the other. Even though they have not met in a joint
session, Rebecca and Nora are beginning to validate each other during
their brief work encounters.



Joint Session
Several weeks have gone by since the last set of pre-caucuses. While
this was not done purposely, it permitted stakeholders time to reconsider
how they see the conflict. The mediator checked in briefly with each
stakeholder ahead of the joint session to make sure there were no new
issues that had developed. Nora and Rebecca seemed a little anxious,
but were ready to speak to each other.
Before Rebecca and Nora arrived at the joint session, the mediator
set up the conference room so the stakeholders could sit facing each
other (Figure 2-1) while he sat at the end of the table.
As a horse trainer, I try and do everything possible so the horse that
has never been ridden will not buck or rear on me the first time I mount.
And I do not mind too much if the horse will buck a little as long as the
animal is moving forward and does not stop. It is when the horse stops
to buck or rear that the resistance becomes dangerous. Only sliding on
top of the saddle will tell me, if indeed, I have prepared the horse
sufficiently. And so it is with a mediation joint session. Only having
both parties present and speaking to each other will let you know if the
preparation was sufficient. Sometimes things may heat up a little, and
that is alright as long as one of the parties does not walk out of the room
or go on a vicious attack.
In terms of mediator involvement, referees also provide a useful
metaphor. Referees understood that they should not be the focus of the
game. People do not generally watch a soccer matchor any other type
of matchto observe the referee. They come to watch a game.
Similarly, while making all the necessary calls, and taking all the
necessary steps to protect both sides, the mediator should not interfere
unless it becomes necessary.
There were some challenging moments between Nora and Rebecca.
This was not the mediation where both stakeholders conversed so well
that the mediator only had to introduce the next topic and write down
areas of agreement. A certain amount of mediator intervention was
required. Perhaps a third set of pre-caucuses would have helped to
further prepare the stakeholders.


Rebecca and Nora will share some uplifting exchanges but

sometimes struggle to find their way. During the joint session
stakeholders continue to become more aware of themselves and each
other. It is through the challengingsometimes even painful
conversations that the stakeholders grow. Whatever insights are not
discovered in the pre-caucuses are left for the joint session.
Mediator Welcome, and thank you for being a part of this process.
Thank you for the time that youve put in. It has been a long process,
coordinating everybodys schedule as well. I want to start repeating the
positive aspects you have mentioned above each other and ask each
other to confirm these.
The mediator had the option of asking each party to mention these
affirming comments directly, a risky move at the beginning of a joint
session. After finishing, the mediator turns to Nora, and asks her to
share the Larry incident with Rebecca.
Nora First of all, do you know what I am talking about? Or, do
you have any clue? [Cheerfully]
Rebecca No, I dont, theres been a number, so tell me which one
... [Cheerfully]
The conversation continues, in a more serious tone.
Nora Well, the one that I really feel bad about is when both of us
had signed up for Larry, and he was making the transition from ...
Rebecca Oh.
Nora ... working for everybody and being assigned full time to me.
And there was some sort of mix-up on the sign-up sheet.
Rebecca Well ... no, ... I signed up first. There wasnt a mix-up,
but, go ahead.
Nora Well, I ...
Rebecca That was your point of view, but go ahead.
Nora Well, I dont really remember exactly ...
Rebecca Actually, its not a really big gigantic thing for me.
Nora Well ...
Rebecca It was an issue. Right.
Nora It was an issue, and I felt really bad how it all came down
and how it all happened because there was a lot of stuff that happened
at that time. I felt what I was trying to do got really misinterpreted. I
dont remember all the details of that day, and I suppose that if it was
really important we could try and reconstruct them. But anyway, I
thought I had signed up for Larry, but it also turned out that this day


Ken Matsushita decided Larry was going to work for me full time. What
I had worked out with Larry was that because you also needed him, that
he was going to help you. Just not that day. But, at another time. But we
couldnt find you. Larry looked for you and I looked for you but you
were upset. And we were going to get your work done, but at a different
time, but we couldnt get ahold of you to let you know that. I was really
trying to make sure that that got done for you but you had already
written me off. That I didnt care about your position when I really did.
Ive never been able to communicate that to you and there are a lot of
other things that wind up being interpreted as if I dont care about you
or your work. And that is not how I feel! Thats really not how I feel.
Rebecca has listened intently, sometimes making eye contact with
Nora, and sometimes staring off into the table between them. Nora has
combined several issues in her comments. Not only the Larry incident,
but also Noras sincere caring about Rebecca. The hurt Rebecca has felt
in this long conflict, however, was simply too deep to permit her to
accept the partial apology offered by Nora.
Noras expression, you had already written me off, may have also
contributed to Rebeccas rejection of the apology: it transferred much of
the fault for the misunderstanding back to Rebecca. When someone has
been hurt, that person frequently has a need to express that pain.
Hearing about the pain we have caused another will, in turn, cause us
discomfort. An important part of apologizing is a willingness to accept
we have hurt another. This process contributes to healing.
Rebecca Well, but in fact on several occasions it has given me, and
other people I have talked to, the impression that your work is the
highest priority and that my work is not significant. These are things
that have been alluded to, and basically said. That other people have
heard, too, but Ive gotten pretty much past that. Youre just wrapped in
what you are doing and you dont really know what I do ... and thats
that. I mean, youre entitled to your opinion.
Nora But thats not my opinion.
Rebecca Well, it has been expressed in several occasions, so I
interpret it as your opinion .... So ...
Nora Well, I mean ... Ill do what I can to help you understand
how I really feel and ...
Rebecca OK
Nora But ... I mean, I cant make you believe something you dont
want to believe.
In the pre-caucus we heard Nora explain that she was going through
a period in her life where she does not want to apologize for things that


are not her fault. The comment about not being able to force someone to
believe what they do not want to believe is a defensive one. Because
Nora has her own pain to deal with, it is difficult to expect much more
at this point in the interaction.
Rebecca [Her voice begins to crack and show higher levels of
stress] Its not that I want to believe on not believe it, I just know what
Ive heard ... and there are not multiple ways to interpret it. So, its just
how I heard ... but its not what I would call a gigantic issue.
Nora [Sighs.]
Rebecca [More calmly] The issue that I had, the latest thing that
started all this, is getting you to turn in the stupid data I needed so I
could complete the report, because it was just part of my job. And I was
trying to do that job, not because its my favorite thing to do, not
because I dont have anything else to do, but because I am trying to help
Ken Matsushita who is really short handed. Im trying to support him. I
just needed that thing done so I could check it off my little sheet. I got
yelled at a couple of times ... and I didnt think that I deserved that. I
was just doing a job. It wasnt even personal. It was basically your
responsibility to do it ... it was my responsibility to make sure it got
checked off [Rebecca laughs and with her hands makes a motion of
checking off something from a list in the air]. And it took months ... and
that was the initial issue that brought us here ... that ridiculous report ...
which is ... unfortunate ... but has now been resolved. Its taking
responsibility for following up after your own work. I dont even know
why it was important but I was told to take care of it and that is what I
was doing. [Now that Rebecca has gotten some of her stress off her
chest she calms down considerably.] So, I didnt mean to ... ride your
case. It didnt seem unreasonable to me either. But, I realize you have a
lot of things to do and details like that are just not the highest priority. I
know that.
This last comment about such details not being the highest priority
for Nora could have caused a defensive reaction in Nora, but fortunately
it did not.
Nora Well, I had no clue ... I had no clue ... I ... maybe somebody
said and it went right over my head. Or, I was in a fog ... or ...
Rebecca Yeah, it did, because I said it three times, plus Susan said
Nora Well, I dont remember being given the responsibility to turn
in that data ...
Rebecca I ended up collecting most of it, except for the stuff that
only you had ... That was just a little piece. I did everything else,


including getting some of the data from your assistants. I just needed for
you to ...
Nora That never got communicated to me.
Rebecca Well, I ...
Nora I had no idea ...
Rebecca Well, I personally communicated that to you several
times, and to your assistant, and Susan did too. Lets face it, some things
are mundane, they are not important, they are irritations, but they are
part of being part of a team. Everybody is in this together and we have
to do our little part to keep this thing running. Thats the only point I
wanted to make, really. I didnt appreciate getting yelled at. I didnt
deserve that ... because you are my colleague. You shouted at me before,
when we were all cleaning up the lab together. I really dont appreciate
that in general. Because you are not my superior ... youre just my
colleague. And I feel like I try and treat you with respect. [Rebeccas
voice begins to break and we can hear the stress.] I dont need anymore
yelling ... or dumping on in my life ... I dont need it. [More calmly
now.] I dont need it from anybody in this lab. I just dont see that it
belongs to the workplace. Does that make any sense?
Nora [Sighs.] It makes sense from your perspective. I dont know
how to exactly say all of this right. [Voice begins to break.]
Rebecca [Cheerfully] Neither do I, we are just mucking through.
[Both laugh.]
Both stakeholders have gotten through some initial turbulence. They
have both shared some of their hurt. Each party could have expressed
her thoughts in a more effective way, but the mediator sees that the
stakeholders are making progress on their own, so he does not interrupt.
Nora How it feels to me ... and we all have blind places where we
come across way different than how we really intend to ...
Rebecca Absolutely!
Nora And I think I am caught in one of those things right now. I
think that 20% of what you say is what I did and the rest of it I am
thinking, Whaaat?
Rebecca Well, you could ask people for their opinions that were in
the lab that day when you lit into me and you could see if it is 20% ...
Nora And I ... I ... [Trying to interrupt]
Rebecca And I am making up 80%? You would find out talking to
the individuals present that that was not the case. I wasnt making a
single thing up. I wasnt misinterpreting one single thing.
Nora [Softly] Well, I guess then ... you know ... I guess ...
Rebecca So if you were interested in finding out the specifics ...
Nora Then I have to go around to all the other people that you
discussed it with?


Rebecca No, not the people who I discussed it with, people who
were present at the time that it happened. Obviously you think that 80%
of what I am saying is being colored ... and you could check on this. It
is very unprofessional behavior, in my opinion. [Now laughing] We can
lay into our kids sometimes, but it is really inappropriate to do that with
a colleague, a professional colleague. Obviously there can be an
interpretation on my part, but its absolutely what happened. Susan was
there, Jim was there, Rodrigo was there, and I dont know who all was
there. [Now more tensely] I am not making up 80% of what I am
Nora I didnt say you were. But ...
Rebecca I interpreted thats what you said.
Nora Well, I remember ... [pause, sighs] I am feeling as if you are
saying that the way you saw it is, by golly, the way it was, and if I feel
differently I better go and check it out with everybody else to find out
that you were right and I was wrong.
After Nora and Rebecca converse for a while, Rebecca asks an
important question based on something Nora had said earlier.
Rebecca What do you envision by peace and reconciliation?
Nora My number one thing I want to express to you is that I really,
honestly do care about you as a person, and I care about your work.
That is genuinely how I feel, and I know that you dont believe that ...
Rebecca [Sighs]
Nora I have no idea how to get over how you feel about that ...
because that is not how you perceive me ... and I guess I could go
through every incident and try and show ...
Rebecca [Calm voice] That the intentions were different ...
Nora That the intentions were different. I dont think that would be
very productive.
Rebecca No, I dont think it would be very productive. It would be
a waste of time. I would like a professionally based respectful
relationship. Just because you are a human being and I am a human
being. For that reason alone. If there could be some hearing on both
sides. I like you as a person and thats the facts. Maybe, if we can feel
straight enough with each other that we can talk about it instead of
letting it build up, thats my vision, that was my hope coming into this.
Discussing the specific issues would be a waste of time. That is where I
see where I would like to go. Does that make any sense?
Nora I ... I
Rebecca Or, do you hear what I am saying? Or is it difficult to ...
Nora I ... I hear what you are saying. Im feeling [sigh] ... Im
feeling judged. If you could hear my perspective on at least one of the
old incidents ...


Rebecca Please! I mean, feel free.

Nora You know, because Im feeling [sigh], ... because there is not
a lot of point for me to explain how I feel about something because I
will be told that wasnt true.
Rebecca Then that would not meet my objective, to have a
respectful, open relationship, if I wasnt going to listen to anything you
said, and try to interpret things from your point of view.
Nora Oh good, then.
Rebecca Im sorry if Im coming across as judgmental. I have
interpretations of how things went. My objective would be to clear up
the clutter and start with this new sortve, collegial relationship that we
could have ... without any undertones of anything else.
Nora That would be nice.
Rebecca Yeah, that is what Im here for. So even though you said
it wouldnt be beneficial to go into any incidents in particular, well, feel
free. If it helps me understand ...
An issue of authority
Nora goes on to explain that the report was a surprise to her.
Rebecca, in turn, recounted some of the many attempts she had made to
communicate with Nora on this issue. After that, Nora gives the
impression of someone who is trying hard to understand herself. We get
a hint, here, that Nora resents the idea of Rebecca acting as her boss.
This theme will resurface again later in the joint session.
Rebecca So how do I reach you in the future? What would be
Nora Em. Its a little bit of a challenge for me when I dont know
where something is coming from. If Ken Matsushita comes to me and
says, Nora, I need this done. Its OK. But if somebody else comes to
you and says, Here, you need to do this. Then I go, Whaaat?
Rebecca [Sighs] I am not trying to come off [sighs] ...
Nora I feel like Im taking orders from you ...
Rebecca Is that the problem? That you think that Im ordering
you? Is that an issue?
Nora I ... I kindve have to work that through, if it comes off like
that to me. Then I have to work through some stuff and say to myself,
OK, Nora, you can do this.
Rebecca So you have ... with everyone ... or just with me?
Nora No, no, no ... its just ... if anyone who isnt my boss comes
with an assignment, Im going to respond with a Oh, really, why?
Rebecca Now, knowing me for all the years you have seen me
operatethat I would come up to you and say, do this, without any
explanation. Nora, get this done, and walk out the door? I mean, Im a


talker, it takes me 45 minutes to say what anybody can say in 10.5

Nora Maybe thats how it got lost. I dont know [laughing].
Rebecca Its either a resentful pseudo-authority thing or I blabber
so you miss the point [laughing].
Nora Or how about, Can you come and let me show you
Rebecca So you would like me to physically take you to the scene
and hear it itemized point by point?
Nora It would help me feel that I was more of a team ...
Rebecca Okay. [Tone turns to one of frustration.] Ill try to make
my explanations succinct, make the chain of responsibility clear, that its
not originating from me, Ill try to take you physically to the place ...
Do you want it in writing, too? Or is the writing ineffective?
Nora Rebecca, Rebecca, no ... what I would like ...
Rebecca Yes?
Nora Is to feel that I was part of the team and not an underling.
[Pause] I have had a whole string of flakes working for me ...
Rebecca [Frustrated] But now Nora, the flakes are 100% your
responsibility ... I approach you on issues and you say, Flake number 1,
flake number 2 ... but you are their supervisor and it is your job that
they know the rules of the lab. Right? Ultimately, isnt the responsibility
with you and not with them?
Nora Im feeling lectured, and Im not feeling like it is a collegial
Rebecca Do you understand the point Im asking?
Nora Of course I understand, but your tone ...
Rebecca Im trying so hard ... thats the problem [Rebecca closes
her eyes and lifts her hands towards her face, as if she was making an
immense effort] ... Im trying to make an impact ... because I feel like ...
its just so difficult. OK, I apologize, if I was being ... if I was lecturing.
The conversation continues in a very friendly manner for a
considerable length. Rebecca acknowledges it would be a frustration to
have some of the assistants that Nora has had in the past. Nora
acknowledges that ultimately, those who assist her are her responsibility.
The tone is light, with some laughter and lots of give and take. Rebecca
brings the conversation back to the issues surrounding the conflict.
Rebecca I am meddling? Is there something in my presentation to
you that is irritating, basically?
Nora I think the last statement is probably true, the first one isnt.
Rebecca How I work with people is irritating?
Nora I would have to say, yeah.


Rebecca and Nora begin to negotiate through how they want to

approach a future challenge. Their understanding of the situation
increases even though at this point they do not reach a solution. After
some progress is made, Nora says:
Nora I feel like you come out with these mandates ...
Rebecca Excuse me ...! Mandates!
Nora Yeah, Im going to use that word because that is the way it
comes across to me.
Rebecca Like what is a mandate? What have I mandated you to
Nora OK, You shall ... you know, I feel like you lecture me, or
you come across as this is what I want you to do. Im not saying that is
what you are doing, but that is the way it comes across to me.
Rebecca [Sighs, moves her head half-way between a nod and a
shake, a searching nod] Fine line ...
Nora Hmm, OK.
Rebecca [Nods]
Nora And then ... OK, but, and then I feel there isnt any room for
me to say, Can we bring another perspective to this?
Rebecca So you need me to approach you in a way that is nonthreatening, non-mandating sort of way ...
Nora To where I feel I am part of the team and I am not just being
told what to do ...
Rebecca Like I think Im your supervisor and have a right to tell
you things ... ?
Nora Or to lecture me [and making her voice deeper] thou shalt ...
Rebecca Do I actually ...?
Nora Maybe not in those words, but that is the way it comes across
to me.
Rebecca I think it is certainly not with those words, certainly not
with that intention ... I have a certain intensity to me ...
Nora As do I ... which ...
Rebecca So I am coming across as a dictator ...
Nora Not as a colleague ... [pause] as my mother ...
Rebecca [Distressful sigh] Ouch.
Nora I feel like you try to parent me ...
Rebecca All right.
Nora And as a colleague I really recent that.
Rebecca OK, watch the tone of voice and the words?
Nora Approach me as a colleague, who is an equal ...
Rebecca Which is, by the way, what Ive asked you for, by the
way [begins seriously but ends cheerfully]. [Pause] I make a point of
always asking for things with a please and a thank you.


Nora Just to put a please and thank you doesnt necessarily soften
the ...
Rebecca So Im too direct in what I say?
Nora Direct is not the word. [Pause] Too parenting. You are the
only person making an issue out of it.
With this last comment, you are the only person ..., the mood of
the conversation takes a sudden negative change for a while. Rebecca
seems hurt and irritated. After a long pause, Nora says she would like to
bring up another subject, and assures Rebecca that even though it does
not seem related, everything will be connected in the end.
Not paid the price to know people better
Nora One of the things that I frankly learned from this process,
where a light bulb really went off in my mind on how to relate in this
labbecause Ive always been one to come to the lab and dive into my
workI get really involved in what Im doing and minutes become
really, really precious ... and I dont take any time to chit-chat.
Rebecca Right.
Nora But ... the light bulb that came on in my mind through all of
this is that chit-chat is really important .... and thats never been my
perspective before.
Rebecca Mmm, OK.
Nora Because, one of the things that was brought up, is that I feel
theres a lot of women in the lab now, and theres kindve a network,
and I was starting to realize that everybody else knew what everybody
was doing this weekend, and I didnt, you know. When I tried to join
someones conversation ... when they were talking about so and sos
backpacking trip, or surfing experience, I didnt feel welcome in that,
because I really hadnt made an effort to really be part of that little
group, and I am realizing that it is in the context of people who are
friendsnot necessarily buddy-buddy, where we do everything together
outside of workbut friends more than colleagues ... that these kindve
things get resolved and dont ever become irritants. And then it is not
necessary to put notes in boxes because ... because ...
Rebecca You can just go and say it to them ...
Nora Yes, you can just go up and say, Hey, lets figure out a
better way to do this. And it doesnt become a note in a box, a mark on
a record ... it just becomes friends working together because we care
about each other and we like each other ... and ...
Rebecca Thats ... where ... Ive tried to come from.
Nora But, I dont feel Ive been a part of that little group, I dont
feel those channels have been open ... like the whole thing with the lab
cleanup, ideally, would have been ... Hey guys, lets take 20 minutes at
lunch today and lets go and attack the lab and clean it up.


Rebecca I spent 2 hours cleaning it by myself ...

Nora But if I had known ... in a different paradigm, then you
wouldnt have had to spend the 2 hours. We could have done it
together, could have had a great time, and done it in an hour. Thats
what I want!
Rebecca Boy ... youre very difficult to approach like that ...
Nora I know! I have been ...
Rebecca It never occurs to me to approach you like that because
that avenue has never been one thats there.
Nora Because a lot of times I am really busy. Im running from
here to there. But I would like for you to think of me as more than just a
colleague ... because that is how I feel about you. I really do.
Rebecca I feel we have an excellent lab and I enjoy every single
person in this lab ... and I think everybody has some wonderful gifts that
they bring to this job ... so I certainly dont exclude you from that
thinking in any way, shape or form. But sometimes I do feel as if Im
talking to a wall.
Suddenly, Nora goes on the attack. She somewhat aggressively
brings up issues that were raised early in the conversation by Rebecca,
as if the two stakeholders had not spoken at all this whole hour.
Rebecca, for the first time, looks towards the mediators, as if to ask for
help. Rebecca tries to tell Nora that some of what Nora has said has
been hurtful.
For the next few minutes the conversation heats up considerably.
Much of what has been said to this point gets repeated or summarized.
The conversation, despite its more stressful and agitated nature, is a
positive one. Both stakeholders are still exchanging information and
trying to come to an understanding.
Rebecca Am I that unreasonable? What have I ever done ...? Im
expressing some surprise here because its foreign that I would say: Its
time to clean up the lab, march! Let me assure you, thats not me, Im
not that naive or ridiculous. My kids dont ... my dog doesnt do what I
tell her to do ... [laughs]
Nora [Laughs]
Rebecca [Agitated] You know, people are people! I try and cut
people slack, because I sure pray they are cutting me slack. You know ...
[Calmly] Im sorry, I dont know how you got that impression ... it
never was in my mind.
Nora OK, Ill accept that.
This subject is dead for the moment. Despite Noras comment that
she would accept that it is clear that Rebecca is hurt. There is silence.


Another chance to refine dysfunctional communication

Having come to a stop in the conversation, the mediator suggests
that both stakeholders focus on how each of them comes across to the
other. The conversation continues in the calm and positive give and take
we have seen earlier.
Rebecca [Making an expression in her face such as where has he
been?] I think we covered it, didnt we? Unless theres more [and
pointing to Nora], Id like to hear what else ...
Mediator We have done some of that but ...
Rebecca Nora, are there ... some other ... things ... ? Because this
is a good time ... it is hard to get this kindve time to just chat in the lab,
and with facilitators, OK [laughing] and everything ... so if there are
other things that I do ...
Nora Well, I feel you are always mad or frustrated at me.
Rebecca What do I do that makes you think that?
Nora [Nora sighs, lowers her head as if searching and buries it into
her hands, as if searching for words] I know its going to come across
wrong, but I know what I am saying. I connect with others in the lab in
a positive way, even if it is just a wave. But with you, I wonder, What
mood is she going to be in? Is she going to respond ...?
Rebecca So you have some trepidation when you approach me ...
Nora Yeah, yeah.
Rebecca That you dont know what ...?
Nora Whether you are going to be friendly or not. I sometimes
need those little reassurances that you are an OK person with me, and
that ...
Rebecca Well, I dont feel very comfortable a lot of times with
Nora Well, OK then ...
Rebecca You talk about me judging you, I feel thats a really big
thing coming back my way.
Nora And thats what I would like to change ... I would like to
know what is it that Im doing where you feel you wouldnt want that
type of relationship with me? [Pause] To where you could say Hi, how
is it going? Im not saying I want to be your best friend.
Rebecca You just dont feel open to it. You seem irritated or
something. [Pause] But certainly we have had great conversations
during the years. We have a lot in common ...
Nora Sure.
Rebecca I have always recognized that, by the way. But its not
comfortable for me a lot of times. I dont feelprobably because you
are busy or somethingthat there is a real receptivity to that sort of
thing. [At this point Rebecca begins to speak very quickly, at higher


pitch, waving her arms, as if she was acting out a great sense of
urgency] ... And get to your job, and do your thing, and ...
Nora [Laughs]
Rebecca Da, da, da, da, da, da, da, you know, and dont talk to
me, ... [back to a normal calm conversational tone] I try to respect the
way you feel and everything, as that is the way you come across. So Im
not just going to: [switching for a moment to an ultra exaggeratedly
sweet voice says] Oh hi. Its not that Im angry, I dont want to bother
you ... [Rebeccas voice becomes a little strained] You basically dont
have an interest, or a want ... do you know what Im saying? In a way ...
Nora I know ... I ...
Rebecca [Continues in a strained, intense voice] In a way it is in
respect to you but it is coming across as rudeness or freezing out or
something when ... Im going along with the cues that you dont want to
be bothered with ... Youve kind of said things in here.
Nora Yeah, but ...
Rebecca [Calmly] And Im kindve a flake that floats around. I
dont want to inject myself to your life and be a negative thing.
Nora I understand that, but its not how I feel. If Ive got a
deadline, Ive got a deadline ...
Rebecca [Kindly] Dont we all.
Nora But, I guess Im saying, I would like to have a certain
amount of warmth in our relationship.
Rebecca [Softly] OK, so Im misinterpreting some things.
Nora So please dont feel that I want for everybody to stay away
from me. Of course, my time is really crunched, it is, but that doesnt
mean that a certain amount of warmth has to take a huge amount of
Rebecca Certainly not. Alright.
Nora And I think that would help on the other things.
Here, Nora begins to tie this conversation back to the earlier one, on
how Rebecca can obtain Noras cooperation. While we have said that
this type of mediation is about the stakeholders controlling, as much as
possible, the conversation, it was unfortunate that Nora changed subject
when this one seemed almost resolved. The mediator did not have the
opportunity to stop and celebrate the small triumphs that have been
achieved, underscore some of what had been said, and refine a few
points. While the stakeholders have come to a better understanding of
how each of them has contributed to the dysfunctional communication
in the past, much of what has been accomplished can be lost without
such a summary. We saw Nora jump topics earlier, and she told us to
trust her, that she would bring us back, and now she has kept her
promise. Of course, the mediator has the option of interrupting for a
moment, to celebrate the successes:


Both of you have shared a little about the difficulties faced in the
past, and even a certain amount of hurt that has arisen from this conflict.
I have also heard each say some very positive things about the other, as
well as about the underlying message that both care about each other
and about the relationship. A couple of examples of what was said
could be shared. Then, the mediator could continue, I also sense an
agreement of sorts on how each will approach the other in the future, in
terms of the interpersonal friendshipIm not talking about being best
friendsbut friendship beyond just simply a collegial relationship.
Are you my boss?
While taking a moment to celebrate the successes achieved to this
point would not have eliminated the mounting stress, it would have
reduced some of the tension and frustration experienced next. Nora
would prefer Rebecca approach her with the whole plan of work, so she
does not feel singled out. Rebecca had spent hours separating that
portion of the work that corresponded to Nora as to not take more of
Noras time.
Rebecca [With frustration] I made, on my own time, a separate
sheet that is only the issues that ... so I didnt bother you with the part of
the lab that correspond to Tim, nor ...
Nora And I understand that, but you see ...
Rebecca [High frustration, raised voice with a tone of supplication,
perhaps as if saying, Cant you understand ...?] I made you ... I
separated the part of the report I needed from you, individual sheets, for
you personally, just what you wanted ...!
Nora But ... but Rebecca ...
Rebecca [High tension] I gave you just what you wanted! Of
things specifically related to you ...! I made you a separate document!
Nora [Calmly] OK, and I understand that in your mind you were
doing me a wonderful favor but ...
Rebecca [Calming down] Did you not ask me to do that? Give you
specific ...?
Nora No ... no ... no.
Rebecca Im sorry, I must have misinterpreted it.
Nora I felt singled out ... like ... you are the worst person in the
lab, You have a page and a half to yourself. If I had seen the whole
five page report and realized that this was part of a larger report you had
to do, that I wasnt the only one that had to do a report ...
Rebecca [In frustration] Knowing you and your time ... [High
frustration] I didnt even consider that as an approach ... its a waste ....
[Frustration] Did I specifically come to you and tell you Look, this is
stuff you have to do because of all of your garbage. [High frustration]


What ...? Do you think there may be some sensitivity on your part in
interpreting some of this?
Nora [Louder voice than normal] There certainly is, there certainly
is. I feel kindve, well, I can document it, I have by far, the messiest lab
space in this lab [smiling]
Rebecca [In frustration] Who do you think is in the sharp running
for number two?
Nora Not you [laughing].
Rebecca Oh, its me. And thats the way it is.
Nora Anyway [laughing], I dont consider it a competition.
Eventually, Rebecca returns to the issue of having Nora view the
whole report outline.
Rebecca [Highly irritated] Do you want Ken Matsushita to deal
with this ...? How can I possibly know that you need to see the whole
report so you know I am not pointing my finger at you? [These last
words are pronounced while shaking her finger at Nora]. It was just a
job given to me by Ken.
Nora And you are going to turn around and give assignments to
other people ...
Rebecca [With irritation] Thats correct, because that is the charge
I was given. I think there is a certain sensitivity here that youve got to
get past! [In utter frustration Rebecca faces the mediator now, Tell me
what Im missing.]
Nora [Softly] First of all, Id like to say ...
Rebecca [Highly irritated] And how can I know ...? [She begins to
repeat herself again.]
Nora [Softly] Well, I guess Im unreasonable.
Rebecca Nora, thats just a defensive comment. [Irritated] How can
I know that what you wanted is the big picture that takes up time you
dont have.
Mediator [Softly] Rebecca, you need to permit Nora to respond,
Rebecca [Addressing the mediator] Oh, Okay. [Irritated] Im trying
to understand how to do something in a non-offensive way, that doesnt
put up barriers and lack of cooperation and interpersonal feelings.
[Softly, almost in tears] Thats my objective, so Ill be quiet.
Nora [Pause, then softly] I ... I cant help but think, that if I spoke
to you, the way you just spoke to me ...
Rebecca [Softly sighs]
Nora [Now almost in tears] ... you would say I was yelling at you.
[Pause, continues in teary voice] And I wasnt acting collegially.
Rebecca [Irritated] OK, I certainly apologize if that is the way I


was coming across! There is a certain frustration level with ... [Calmer]
Im trying to see ... [Now softer, slowly, measured comments] I cant ...
envision ... the exact ... perfect ... approach for you. [Pause, trying to
find the words to continue.]
Nora Rebecca, I dont know if you heard what I said.
Rebecca You feel upset that I am hammering upon you.
Nora I would like to take this opportunity ... to ask for your
understanding for me that when I get frustrated ...
Rebecca [Intensely, still frustrated] I will certainly do that ...
[Calmly] Except, can I say one thing? [Pause] When I went to talk to
you in the lab, you said, What gives you the right to come here and tell
me what to do? I consider that a little different from expressing
frustration. Even though ... it was wrong ...that is a little different from
trying to ...
Nora [Sighs]
Rebecca [Intensely] To me its different when someone says,
Who are you to come in here and tell ... That is a little more in-yourface type of challenging. Im coming across as challenging, Im coming
across as frustrating ... because I feel like ... I want to hit my head with
a hammer ... because Im not getting it. [Clenching her fists in inner
frustration and moving them around.] Im not getting how I can fix this
Nora Ken gave you an assignment, so now you have the authority
to tell everybody else what to do ... that mechanism was never
explained to me ... I didnt know you were my boss in that context.
Rebecca [Softly] Nora, Im not your boss.
Nora But, when you give me an assignment, and you tell me that
Ken gave you this responsibility, then, youre my boss in that context.
Rebecca Cant you just trust me ... that I wouldnt want to boss
you around?
Nora In the absence of a warm relationship ... thats hard for me ...
Rebecca Why would I want ...
Nora Well, dont ask a question if you dont want to hear the
answer [laughing]
Rebecca I do.
Nora There are lots of people in my life who would ...
Rebecca I want to know for me, why would I ...
Nora Why did all the other people in my life do it? [Raises her
hands and laughs]
Rebecca But me?
Nora I feel Im being boxed in a corner that I dont want to be in.
[Pause] If I feel it is coming in a way that is dictatorial ... thats hard for
Rebecca Is it like an authority thing? Are you in a rebellion thing?


Nora Even if Ken Matsushita, or the owner of the lab flew in, it
somehow needs to fit in a day. I guess I have a really hard response with
anybody who waltzes into my lab area ...
Rebecca Waltzes?
Nora Im not talking to you.
Rebecca Oh.
Nora With any relationship, anybody who gives me a list of
assignments, or , youre going to do this, it doesnt matter who they
are ... Woah, ..., I cant ... you can request to get things on the list ...
but please help me to understand how to fit it in to the rest of the ...
Rebecca, youve got to understand, and its not you, I want you to
understand, and its not you, a picture of my life ... right now theres a
lot of people mad at me [for work that is incomplete or unfinished] and
I wish I could get them all in one room at the same time and have them
work out what I should do first ... whose project is most important ...
and when someone else walks in and throws something else at me ... its
hard to fit in ... and Im not going to welcome it with open arms.
Rebecca [Looking down at the table.]
Nora Do you know what Im saying.
Rebecca [Silence.]
Nora And Ken is very good about that. Ken lets me rant and rave
for a few minutes and then I add it to my list.
Rebecca [Discouraged] All right. Im just trying to help Ken.
Nora Then let me feel like Im helping Ken ... rather than helping
you ... its not that I dont want to help you.
This last comment could have been very offensive but Rebecca does
not seem to take it that way. Rebecca has just about given up, however,
and is almost totally exhausted. The mediator understands that Rebecca
is facing a very difficult challenge here. The mediator asks a question,
tentatively, to further explore Noras feelings.
Mediator Nora, you said that even if Ken, or the lab owner, asked
for help, you may not be able to provide it because you are so busy. Let
me plant a scenario for you, and see, if you would, how you feel about
it. Would you prefer, say, for Rebecca to finish what she can of the
report and turn it into Ken and say, Ken, here is the report. It is
completed, except for Noras portion. I tried to follow up, but couldnt
get her part. If you want it, get it yourself. How would you feel if
Rebecca took that approach?
Nora If thats what needed to be ... thats what needed to be.
Mediator Let me just say, as an independent bystander, OK? Im
going to extrapolate a little bit, please forgive me if I dont use the exact
words. I hear Rebecca saying that she wants to do the job right. OK?


But that it is also taking an emotional toll, and she didnt say it, its also
taking a time toll from her. Now, we started at the beginning with
comment made by Rebecca, where she felt your program was more
important than her program ... in effect, em, even though the words are
different, the context now makes me feel that you are telling Rebecca
that your program is more important than hers because unless Ken
comes over and does something, that you are not going to do it.
Nora [Nora has listened quietly to this point, but now, extremely
upset, she interrupts, throws up her hands, and pulls back her chair, with
a raised voice] You know what, no, Im sorry, Im being painted
wrongly. I did the stinking job ... OK.
Mediator Nora ...
Nora What we are dealing with here ... is a relational thing ... [now
calmly] I thought we were talking about how to deal with things in the
future, without relational difficulties, I thought this was what we were
talking about ...
Mediator U-hum. All Im saying is, from my corner, and I may be
misunderstanding ... Im getting the feeling that you are saying that
helping Rebecca do her job is not a sufficient enough reason to ... even
though Ken delegated ...
Nora [Waving her hand, agitated] No, no ...
Mediator Oh, Im sorry, Im totally misunderstanding?
Nora You missed it completely.
Mediator Im getting the wrong message here, so why dont you
explain it to Rebecca.
Nora [Now facing Rebecca] I understand you are helping Ken, you
didnt have to separate my part and take the extra time ...
Rebecca The real bottom line issue here ... there is something ... I
dont know how to extract it ... what is the real issue here ...?
underneath that stuff?
Nora The real issue ... the real issues is how you come across to
me. And ... or ... maybe I should say it differently ... how I perceive you
coming across to me.
Rebecca [Calmly] No, theres a resentment that I gave you a list of
things to do in the capacity ... it is a resentment ...
Nora If you are going to be my boss in this area ...
Rebecca [Sighs, and barely audibly and in a painful voice says]
Im ...
Nora First of all, I need to be clear on that. That in this context
you are my boss.
Rebecca Im not your boss! [Sighs]
Nora [Intensely, moving about her arms] Well, then ... youre
acting like my boss [Nora goes on for a while using the word boss
several times and insisting that Rebecca is her boss in this area, if the
assignment came from Ken].


Rebecca [Irritated] What if the situation were reversed, and you

had to come up with this report, do you think you would be everybodys
boss running around?
Nora In that context ...
Rebecca [Irritated] Is that what you would actually be doing with
the people in this lab, bossing them around? Being the big boss writing
this stuff ... [here Rebecca is puffing up her chest and drawing with her
hands] ... Is that what you would think?
Nora [Intensely] If it has to be done in that type of context ... I
dont understand ...
Mediator Let ...
Rebecca [Sighs, the speaks softly] Im done ... Im finished.
Nora I dont understand.
Rebecca I dont either.
Mediator I ... I can see what Rebecca is saying, the word boss is
a little bit strong. More than strong ... because she is not your boss ...
Rebecca Its a connotation ...
Mediator It is a little strong ... to me.
Nora But I feel that what she is saying to me is pretty strong. That
when she comes to me with something Ken has given her, it is not a
request it is a requirement ...
Mediator The question is, Can a requirement come from a
colleague on behalf of somebody else without ...?
Nora If it comes in the context of a colleague ... [Broken, close to
teary voice]. My interpretation of boss is someone who gives you
directives, and may or may not have any consideration for how you are
going to get them done.
Rebecca [Highly irritated, shouting] Fine, OK, Ive just had
enough! Its not even something anybody cares about ... I understand its
a stupid little job ... I understand that! [Sighs].
Nora Well ... I
Rebecca [Highly irritated, shouting, not at Nora, but in general]
And Im so sorry that I provoke people by making a request in direct in
such a direct manner ... I will change ... I will work harder ... put more
time in figuring out how to get the job done in a more efficient manner
and Ill just figure out for everything how everybody needs to be
approached to do a stupid job that means extra time that I never see a
benefit to me, or my job, or my paycheck ... that frustrates me ...
because its stupid. [Pause] I dont need it! Ken Matsushita needs it ...
he needs it [and raising her hand above her head], hes up to here. Have
you seen how that guy looks, he looks older, I mean, hes not even fun
anymore. [Sighs. Then, intensely, but much calmer now] But I can do a
better job of communicating these issues ... I sincerely say that I will ...
because it will get everything done more efficiently ... and then I will
not have to deal with it. Thats good ... thats a good resolution.


Throughout the early part of the mediationbefore Rebeccas

frustration mounted so highit was Rebecca who was constantly trying
to find a workable solution. A line seems to have been crossed after the
first hour, however, when Rebeccas patience gave way, and since then,
while Rebeccas question has not changed, the question now has turned
into a rhetorical one. She has given up on getting an answer.
While there has been frustration, raised voices, and immense
tension, the stakeholders have shown a high amount of respect towards
each other. Although they have not always succeeded, one gets the
feeling that these women are trying not to say something to hurt the
other. They have attempted to communicate their own pain and anguish,
and how they perceive each other, without being purposely unkind.
The mediator had to rescue Rebecca when she seemed to have lost
all hope for resolution and understanding. This kept the conversation
moving, however, and avoided a possible disasterhaving one of the
stakeholders leave the joint session.
Other than this challenge, the worst the stakeholders have done is
raise their voices, miss the point the other was trying to make, not see
some positive opportunities, or exaggerate the unworthiness of their
own perspective in a defensive move.
Every mediation has its own flavor. This one was characterized by
sudden changes in direction. Just when things were looking particularly
difficult, Nora surprises us again.
Nora [Gently] Well Rebecca, can I help you with it?
Rebecca You want to take over the responsibility for the year-end
Nora No ... no ... no ... no ... no!
Rebecca [Calmly] Yeah, youre not stupid. You are not going to do
anything youre not getting any credit for doing. [This may be another
exception to what we have said about unkind comments.]
Nora [Laughing] Yeah, yeah ... is the fox going to guard the hen
house? No ... no ... no... But, I can see some ways that we can work
together on it. Divide and conquer. I agree with you that Ken shouldnt
have to do it all ... but you shouldnt have to do it all, either. Its way
too big of an assignment.
Rebecca This has turned into something a little more intense ...
Nora This has turned into a monster and too much for one person
to tackle. Im saying, why dont we share it. So you are not stuck with
the whole thing ... because you cant take the stress of it ... your job and
your life is just as complicated as mine is ...
Rebecca OK, I appreciate those comments ... its pretty reflective
of how I feel.


Nora and Rebecca work out the details of a solution where the
burden can be shared, so Ken does not have to worry about the report.
The plan involves asking for the cooperation of all the lab professionals.
Rebecca admits that some in the lab have been almost as bad as Nora in
responding to requests for cooperation. Rebecca vents and Nora tries to
show understanding. At one point Rebecca, with much sincerity says,
So, Im glad youre on board. There is some joking and
decompressing. The topic is concluded. Next, the mediator asks Nora to
expand on her desire to be a more integral part of the friendship group
among the female professionals in the lab. There had been no specific
resolution to that issue.
Rebecca [Calmly] OK, and can I say just one thing, before we
finish the other topic up? [Addressing the mediator] Nora had asked me
to give her the big picture. Unfortunately, I gave the big picture in very
emphatic tones. Nora got the big picture, and she put out the hand to
help me. And I just learned a lot from that [now looking at Nora] and I
just wanted to say that I appreciate it ... I get it.
Being part of the female friendship group
Rebecca Anyway, so what was the question? About collegiality
between the women?
Mediator Id like Nora to explain the fact that shed like to feel
part of the professional women in the lab ... go ahead, Nora.
Nora And I alluded to that. Thats something that I really ... I
didnt consider as important in the past as I do now, because I am
understanding ...
Rebecca [Whispering] Oh, thats fantastic!
Nora I would like to feel, at least among the women[with
humor] you cant just help some of the guys, [and looking at the
mediator] no offense ...
Rebecca No offense [also laughs and looks at the mediator].
Nora But I want to be part of the womens chit-chat a little bit.
Rebecca Well Nora, what it takes, is you have an interest in their
lives, Vickys surfing, Chiakis backpacking trips, or something with
their kids. It takes time to establish a relationship.
Nora Rebecca, I know that ...
Rebecca Oh, Im being a little bit too simple.
Nora Well, no ...
Rebecca So, jump in with twenty feet! Go for it!
Nora Im trying to, but what Im asking, if theres two or three
people talking and I walk up, dont change the subject or walk away and
ignore me, please. Recognize that Im trying to make an effort.


Rebecca Well, I was not aware ... do you think that is something
that happens?
Nora U-huh.
Rebecca And it is a conscious thing.
Nora I dont know if it is conscious or not, but I sure feel it.
Rebecca Well then, thats a problem.
Nora Im not feeling terribly rejected. Im just feeling frustrated.
Rebecca Then, the only thing I can suggest is just what I said.
Making the time, seeking the people ...
Nora And I ...
Rebecca Thats what I do ... I like talking to women. Its a huge
support in my life. They are a great support to me. Chiaki calls me if
her car breaks down, Francisca has called me when her husband was out
of town and needed someone to get some medicine for her sick baby ...
its a relationship, it nurtures me.
Nora Well, Im available for those things, too.
Rebecca Then just come and be a natural part of it.
Nora Im trying to, but Im feeling like ...
Rebecca Dont feel then, put those feelings aside, dont talk
yourself out of this, dont ...
Nora Rebecca, let me finish my statement.
Rebecca All right.
Nora There have been times when Ive tried to do that and Ive felt
excluded. Im asking, could you make an effort to include me? Im not
saying, Im not going to make an effort
Rebecca Okay [drawn out].
Nora In fact I have been making efforts, and Im sure nobody
noticed or nobody was aware ... but where they were talking about
somebodys backpacking trip, or somebodys something ... I walk up to
join the conversation, the conversation ends.
Rebecca That would be extremely uncomfortable, to say the least.
Nora And it doesnt make me feel, Oh, poor me, but I am asking
for you to help me so that doesnt happen. [Pause] Because I am making
an effort.
Rebecca By saying that ... do you think that somehow I am
responsible for the dynamics ...
Nora No, Im not. Im just asking ...
Rebecca OK, Im just trying to straighten it out.
Nora I am just asking for your help. Since you are aware of what
Im trying to do, Im asking for your assistance. I am not saying you
have done something wrong in the past. Im not saying that at all.
Rebecca But, I just get a feeling of this racing, racing, running,
running, and ... What Im saying is that I perceive you as being too busy
to drop in and say I tried a strawberry jam recipe. I think that you
think, What an idiot, why does she think that I care?


Nora Why dont you try it.

Rebecca And I have.
Nora Sometimes I have a genuine deadline.
Rebecca Of course.
Nora Dont assume Im not interested.
Rebecca That would be a disservice. Okay. Alright.
Nora So Im just ...
Rebecca Fine, I think thats great! its just that after twentysomething years [laughing] I havent thought like there is a great deal,
you know ... I sometimes think people think Im a frivolous typeve
person. I dont want to pass through here and not know anything about
others. When you die, what are you going to look back at? Connections
and ... people enrich lives. We have more in common than we dont.
Weve been in this job for many years, we are more the same than
different. But I dont feel comfortable ... so you are saying its OK to
feel comfortable ... just dropping in once in a while ... to just say hello.
Nora Yeah, always has been. Is it OK if I do that with you?
Rebecca Yeah [laughing]. Everybody else does. If that is
something welcome with you ... I never got that feeling from you ...
Nora Im sorry, because Ive always felt like that. Ive done a
really poor job ...
Rebecca Then its been a loss for both of us ...
Nora Ive done a really poor job ...
Rebecca A loss for both of us. Its been a misassumption on both
our parts, and we both lost out.
Nora And yes, Im very available to help people with whatever
jams they may be in ... and I often need help myself.
Rebecca As the mediator said first thing [referring back to the
positive comments that Rebecca had asked the mediator to share with
Nora], Ive always said, and always known, that you have good
intentions and a good heart. I know that. But sometimes you are a little
brusque, and its off-putting.
Nora Im sorry.
Rebecca Thats OK, Im just telling you why ... the approachability
factor is a little less ... than comfortable. Because I dont want to feel
like Im barging ...
Nora Ill try not to make you feel ...
Rebecca Were not talking about a three-hour gab session a day.
Nora No, we cant.
Rebecca No, just stick your head in at lunch. I would welcome it
Nora OK.
Rebecca So ... that would be a positive thing. If those sort of
positive interactions would occur, then these other things would not be a


Nora Thats why ... thats one reason I really wanted to change my
... Ive always been a pretty nose-to-the-grind person here, and thats
one reason why ... in addition to the fact I really care about you guys ...
I do care about people.
Rebecca I know that ... Ive always known that ...
Nora Sometimes Ive isolated myself because there were things
going on in my life ... and I didnt want to bleed over everybody.
Rebecca And its a survival thing. But friends need to do that and
take turns ...
Nora But you have to have those relationships established ... and I
didnt ... Im in a different place now.
Rebecca Thats a good thing. I am a little over emotional, a little
this and that ... but decent.
Nora Of course, that was on my list. And I have always admired
how you always put people first. I have looked up to you. I really
admire that.
This mutual validation goes on, with beautiful sentiments shared
among the stakeholders. The mediator had started by sharing the
positive aspects each stakeholder had mentioned about the other, and
now the stakeholders have freely shared these without being prompted.

I received the following note from Rebecca, a month after the
mediation: I just wanted to let you know how much you have helped
Nora and me. We are now talking regularly and I am enjoying the
contact thoroughly. All the negativity that had built up for so long is
gone and I feel like Ive lost 100 pounds! The process was tough, but
the results were more than worth it. Half a year later, I was able to
catch up with Nora and Rebecca, who had cemented their friendship.
The week before the book went to press, they had gone out to the
movies and were planning a camping trip to a nearby beach.
It would be of great interest to me to hear about your mediation
experiences. Please write to gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, call me at (209)
525-6800, or visit http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/.
University of California
Helping Others Resolve Conflicts
Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800

University of California
Helping Others Resolve Conflicts
Empowering Stakeholders
(c) 2004 Regents of the University of California
All Rights Reserved
gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu, (209) 525-6800

Contributions of Caucusing and
Pre-Caucusing to Mediation
Gregorio Billikopf Encina
Wherever choices exist, there is potential for disagreement. Such
differences, when handled properly, can result in richer, more effective,
creative solutions. But alas, it is difficult to consistently turn differences
into opportunities. When disagreement is poorly dealt with, the outcome
can be contention. Contention creates a sense of psychological distance
between people, such as feelings of dislike, alienation, and disregard.
Such feelings can get in the way of effective communication and
resolution of even the most minute perceived differences (Billikopf
Deep-seated interpersonal conflict requires an enormous amount of
skill to mediate, even when the best of present-day theory is put into
practice by trained and skilled mediators. Yet others who may have little
mediation training, such as facilitators, may at times find themselves in
the role of mediator.
Despite years of experience as an admired and skillful facilitator, a
colleague confessed that mediation required specialized skills. He
described a recent intervention as a third-party neutral, one where he felt
thrown into a lions den. The stakeholders became involved in an ugly
escalation right in front of him. As a mediator he felt impotent to help,
and was even threatened by one irate stakeholder.
There are a number of subtle differences between what facilitators
and mediators do. Although they both draw from a subset of common
tools, there are important distinctions. Generally speaking, facilitators
tend to help groups through the process of problem solving and creative
decision making. Mediators often deal with stakeholders who may be
more openly antagonistic toward each other.
(c) Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal
Number 4, Spring 2002, used with permission.


Facilitators, in many cases, work with situations where people may

not know the way, but are excited about finding a common direction.
Mediators, in contrast, often work with those who have lost faith in the
other stakeholder, as well as any hope of resolving the challenges in a
mutually positive or amicable fashion. Having made such broad
generalizations, it is important to note that individual mediators and
facilitators vary enormously both in philosophy and approach.
There are times when interpersonal conflict may force a facilitator to
concentrate on individual or group antagonisms. At times like this, the
facilitator may benefit from additional mediation skills.
The focus of this paper is on the contributions of caucusing as a
mediation tool, and more specifically, the use of pre-caucusing. In
caucusing, the third-party neutral meets separately with each
stakeholder, in the absence of the other contending party. In precaucusing, these separate meetings take place before the mediator ever
brings the stakeholders into a joint session (Billikopf 1994; Billikopf
While countless factors are involved in successful mediation, some
are so compelling that they may be called pillars of mediation. Precaucusing may well be such a pillar.
With notable exceptions, caucusing has received a somewhat uneven
and often shallow treatment in the literature. Little is said explicitly
about pre-caucusing. Certain value assumptions about mediation further
complicate some of the controversy surrounding the topic. One of the
most important of these values involves mediator choice between a
transformative (Bush & Folger 1994) and the more traditional directive
The directive approach tends to focus on finding an acceptable
agreementone that may involve settling or compromisingbetween
the contending parties. It is sometimes called directive because of the
large amount of power and responsibility placed on the mediator. Some
mediators may come close to acting as arbitrators, imposing a solution
on the participants. Of course, mediators do not normally start out
thinking that they will impose a solution. As situations become more
difficult and emotional, however, it is increasingly likely that directive
tactics will be utilized (Bush and Folger 1994; Folger, Marshall, &
Stutman 1997; Lewicki et al., 1994).
Transformative mediation (1) allows stakeholders to retain
maximum control over the process; (2) creates an atmosphere where
parties can begin to connect interpersonally (i.e., provide mutual
recognition or support); (3) helps parties become better negotiators and
reduce dependence on neutrals; and (4) seeks solutions that are based on
a careful understanding of the problem, rather than rushing into
agreements that may be short-lived.






A study on self-esteem found that people prefer conflict management

situations in which they have added control over the results, even when
such control may mean making greater concessions (Swann 1996). My
own preference towards transformative mediation affects how I see and
utilize caucusing.
We shall first review what is said about pre-caucusing in the
literature. The positive and negative attributions often associated with
caucusing, and particularly, the special contribution played by precaucusing, are mentioned next. Examples of pre-caucusing are drawn
from my involvement as a researcher and mediation practitioner in
organizational settings.
Pre-caucusing in the Literature
Little is said in the literature about either pre-caucusing or the timing
of caucusing in general. For instance, Moore suggests, Mediators
should take care not to schedule caucuses prematurely, when parties are
still capable of working productively in joint session, nor too late, after
unproductive hostile exchanges or actions have hardened positions
(1996, p. 320).
Bush and Folger are more explicit about the benefits of early
caucusing: Exploring delicate relational issues and laying further
groundwork for recognition is sometimes easier in caucus, especially in
the early stages of the process. Parties often find it difficult at first to
give recognition directly to the other party, because it is difficult to give
recognition to another person when feeling vulnerable oneself (1994, p.
153). Having said that, however, they warn that breaking into caucus
too early may interrupt the transformative momentum or positive
conversation flow between stakeholders that may involve positive acts
of mutual recognition (Bush & Folger 1994, p. 271).
There is one veiled reference to pre-caucusing, mentioned almost as
an aside by Folger, Marshall, and Stutman. In a sidebar case, a mediator
was using computer technology as an aid to conflict resolution. The
mediator is reported to have met with the stakeholders separately prior
to the session to help them clarify their needs and positions (1997, p.
Volkema comes close to suggesting a pre-caucus: The first contact
between the mediator and the parties provides the first opportunity to
establish public images. If this contact is between the mediator and one
other person, only two identities need to be negotiated, although
groundwork for others can be laid at the same time (1988, p. 8).
Winslade and Monk (2000) are clear proponents of the pre-caucus,
especially in cases involving entrenched disputes, although they
studiously avoid the word caucus, given its negative associations:


One of the first steps we prefer to take in a mediation is to

meet with each of the parties separately . In our
experience, it is in these separate meetings that a lot of the
major work of the mediator is done. the separate meetings
are a venue for significant developments in the mediation as
a whole, not an optional adjunct to the process, to be used
only when things are getting sticky. In our approach, they are
central to what gets achieved (2000, p. 137).
Despite Winslade and Monks use of the pre-caucus, I found they
failed to take advantage of all of the pre-caucuss transformative
possibilities. In the joint session stakeholders tend to address the
mediator rather than each other. In fairness to Winslade and Monk, this
happens even in the approach used by Bush and Folger (1994).


Positive attributes usually associated with caucusing include:
deciding whether to bring the parties together into a joint session
(Moore 1987; Moore 1996); giving the opportunity to stakeholders to
vent (Blades 1984; Emery & Jackson 1989; Hobbs 1999; Hohlt 1996;
Moore 1987; Moore 1996; Pruitt et al. 1989; Welton, Pruitt, &
McGillicuddy 1988); helping each party feel understood by the mediator
(Emery & Jackson 1989; Hobbs 1999; Hohlt 1996; Moore 1987; Moore
1996; Pruitt et al. 1989; Volkema 1988; Welton, Pruitt, & McGillicuddy
1988); exploring positions and needs (Blades 1984; Castrey & Castrey
1987; Emery & Jackson 1989; Hobbs 1999; Hohlt 1996; Moore 1987;
Moore 1996; Pruitt et al. 1989; Volkema 1988; Welton, Pruitt, &
McGillicuddy 1988); reminding parties of the benefits of mediation
(Moore 1987; Moore 1996; Volkema 1988); coaching stakeholders on
effective communication and negotiation techniques (Hobbs 1999;
Moore 1987; Moore 1996; Volkema 1988); and appealing to
stakeholders higher principles (Blades, 1984; Hobbs 1999; Hohlt 1996;
Moore 1987; Moore 1996; Pruitt et al. 1989; Volkema 1988; Welton,
Pruitt, & McGillicuddy 1988; Winslade & Monk 2000).
Each of the next several sections (1) presents a key decision or
outcome of mediation, then (2) underscores the contributions of
caucusing followed by (3) the additional benefits of pre-caucusing.
Deciding to Bring Parties Together
The ideal is to bring the stakeholders together so they can make a
joint decision and retain maximum control over the situation. An
important outcome of effective mediation is to enable parties to handle
future challenges without a mediator.






While the results of mediation can be markedly superior to those

obtained through other third-party interventions (such as arbitration),
this is not necessarily so with substandard mediation (Castrey & Castrey
1987). When things go wrong in mediation, stakeholders may take
advantage of the sense of safety they feel in order to escalate the
contention to even higher levels than before. It is possible that the
mediator can do more harm than good by bringing the parties together.
Contributions of caucusing
Moore suggests that a mediator may use caucusing to deal with
relationship problems, and that at times a neutral third party may want
to discourage or prevent the parties from returning to joint session ...
when extremely strong emotions [might] be a major stumbling block to
further negotiations (1987, p. 88).
Further contributions of pre-caucusing
A central aim of the pre-caucus is for the mediator to assess the
potential benefits and harm of bringing stakeholders together, before any
damage is done. When contention is allowed to come into the mediation
session, the opportunity for stakeholders to start with a clean slate is
compromised. Emotional escalation, as Moore (1987) suggests, may
also have a negative effect on reaching agreement.
In one of my early efforts as a mediator, a manager not only refused
to look at his assistant in the joint session, but turned his chair so as to
present his back to her. After this experience I developed a litmus test to
better help me gauge the likelihood that a joint session would be
successful: asking a stakeholder for what he or she values in the other
(Billikopf 2000). This question is so telling because people involved in
deep-seated conflict may have trouble finding anything positive to say
about another (Bush & Folger 1994). This is not a question to ask at the
outset, as stakeholders may be in too much pain to see very clearly. Nor
should the mediator take the first negative expression as final. (For
additional tests see Lewicki, et al. 1994, p. 360-361.)
In one difficult case, a top manager could not make a single positive
remark about a middle manager who worked for him, despite the
positive things that had been said about him. I shared with the top
manager my experience that there was little likelihood of mediation
success where an individual could find nothing positive to say about
another, and suggested a short break. When we resumed our
conversation, the recalcitrant manager was waiting for me with a list of
sincere, positive feelings about the other stakeholder.


Opportunity to Vent
Two couples sat on either side of the table, glaring hostilely at each
other. At the head of the table, a schoolteacher in her thirties was
explaining the service. First you, Mr. and Mrs. A, will have a chance to
tell your side of the story and Mr. and Mrs. Z will listen quietly. Then
you, Mr. and Mrs. Z, will have the same opportunity. After that we will
discuss the situation and try to find a way to resolve it ... . While each
side was telling its story, there were outbursts from the other of thats
not true or wait a minute, which the mediator strove to contain.
(Pruitt et al. 1989, p. 202)
Mediators often struggle unsuccessfully to maintain control over
conflict escalation. Early joint session phases where stakeholders share
their stories, come up with ground rules, or begin to interact, frequently
lead to unconstructive exchanges. After each parent has voiced
concerns, the two parents are encouraged to discuss the issues freely. In
the majority of cases, an argument ensues, say Emery & Jackson, who
discuss child custody disputes. The fight is almost always unproductive
... (1989, p. 6).
Kenneth Kressel explains that it is a common theme in the
mediation cannon (p. 25) to let each party tell their side of the story in
front of the other. He then shares the destructive effect of this approach:
Mrs. Smith would accept my invitation [to tell her side of the story]
with relish, explaining that they were here because Mr. Smith was a
worthless lout who cared nothing for his children or common decency
and had been vilifying and humiliating her for years. For all she knew,
he might also be an alcoholic and child abuser. His cross-dressing was a
matter of record. She was in mediation by order of the court and was
certainly willing to do her best to encourage Mr. Smith to finally be a
father but was, shall we say, skeptical. Whatever the tonic benefits of
this outburst for Mrs. Smith, for Mr. Smith and myself the results were
clearly unhappy: he would be provoked into an apoplectic rebuttal and I
into a dismal contemplation of other lines of work. Yes, I exaggerate.
But only a little (1994, p. 26).
Some mediators feel that such loss of control is unavoidable, part of
the process, or even necessary (Emery & Jackson 1989, Rothman 1997).
I contend, however, that there is a better way; that stakeholders have
already experienced what does not work, and remember it well. It is
hardly necessary for them to re-experience it now in front of the
mediator. Most third-party neutrals would probably welcome an
approach where such dysfunctional escalations were either greatly
reduced or completely eliminated.
Some have suggested strategies for reducing such futile outbursts,
including telling one party to remain silent or focus on listening (Hobbs
1999) while the other speaks. To make the point, the listening party may






be given a notepad and asked to take notes (Emery & Jackson 1989). It
has also been suggested that joint sessions be held in a public place to
help stakeholders tone down their emotions (Folger, Marshall, &
Stutman 1997). While the note-taking suggestion has some merits, in
this context such artifacts may delay contentious outbursts rather than
prevent them.
Contributions of caucusing
Stakeholders may have some very poignant and deeply antagonistic
feelings towards each other. When these can be vented in front of the
mediator, the stakeholder often has less of a need to vent in a destructive
manner in front of the opposing stakeholder. Defensiveness is reduced
and creativity increased as the mediator protects stakeholders from
further mutual abuse.
There is little disagreement on this point: while involved in
caucusing stakeholders are less hostile than in joint sessions (Welton,
Pruitt, & McGillicuddy 1988). When conflict escalates into
contentiousness, as in these episodes, the mediator not only permits
stakeholders to lose face, but just as importantly, she or he loses both
control (Butler 1994) and face (Volkema 1988) in front of the
Further contributions of pre-caucusing
When dealing with acquaintances or strangers, individuals often go
out of their way to make an effort to project their best possible behavior.
This is especially true in what could be called a courting period. This
honeymoon period may last years, when stakeholders view their
relationship as fair and equitable. When the rules of proper
interpersonal exchange are violated (Brown, 1986) and someone feels
taken advantage of, the situation can change quickly.
Similarly, in a stakeholders relationship with a mediatorassuming
the mediator is a stranger and/or has the respect of the stakeholders
individuals often try extra hard to be on their best behavior (Folger,
Marshall, & Stutman 1997), lest the mediator think that they are
culpable. Stakeholders are more likely to want to continue to make a
good impression on the mediator after they have established themselves
as reasonable people in the pre-caucus. Volkema suggests that it is not
unlikely that the parties will have established one image with each other
and another image with the mediator (1988, p. 11).
People also attempt to be consistent: Consistency gives actors a
desirable degree of predictability and trustworthiness, and it generates
liking and respect (Schlenker 1980, p. 232). Stakeholders are likely to


feel a greater need to be seen as consistently reasonable by a mediator

who has had sufficient time to meet with them individually. Effective
listening is a very powerful tool, and people tend to respect those
mediators who can listen with care and empathy.
Once the parties have exchanged insults in front of a third-party
neutral in traditional mediation, on the other hand, much of the damage
has been done. Stakeholders feel less motivated to show their best after
exposing their worst behavior.
It is not that stakeholders pretend to be someone they are not.
Because stakeholders meeting with the mediator in the pre-caucus know
they will be meeting with the other party in a joint session, it is my
experience that they are likely to share their own shortcomings, rather
than wait for the other party to bring these out. It is this new facework
(allowing another to save face) between stakeholders that the mediator
wants to encourage in order to give parties an opportunity for a fresh
start that is not based on blame.
Helping Each Party Feel Understood by the Mediator
It is difficult to expect stakeholders who have been involved in deepseated conflict to put aside their own needs and listen to and focus on
the needs of the other party (Bush & Folger, 1994). The natural
tendency is for stakeholders to want to express their own perspectives
first. The more deep-seated and emotional the conflict, the greater this
At times, tension in deep-seated interpersonal conflict situations can
reach almost unbearable levels. In mediating such conflicts within
organizations, it is common for stakeholders to strongly contemplate
withdrawal from the enterprise. Psychological separation from the other
stakeholder and possibly from the organization has already taken place.
For instance, in child custody mediation, parties have already separated
physically and psychologically from each other, yet need to work
together for the benefit of the children involved.
Contributions of caucusing
Because stakeholders have the opportunity to meet separately with
the mediator, each gets the opportunity to explain his or her perspective
first, before having to attend to the other participant. When the
stakeholder feels understood, an enormous emotional burden is lifted,
thus making him or her more receptive to listen to others (Covey 1989).
It is true that stakeholders have a special need to be understood by the
other party in the contention, but being understood by the mediator
contributes much. Often, it is a necessary step in terms of a stakeholder
gaining enough confidence to proceed further.






Some individuals tend to be more silent than others. Caucusing

increases the chances that an individual will talk (Hohlt 1996) and
express his or her feelings. It is hardly possible for the mediator to help
individuals who refuse to speak about where it hurts. Mediators have
the opportunity to show empathy in a caucus situation without arousing
jealousies in other party.
Further contributions of pre-caucusing
It is at the start of mediation that stakeholders are perhaps most
apprehensive as to what mediation may bring. Parties often come to the
table with every defensive mechanism armed and ready to deploy (such
as sulking silence, angry outbursts, combative body language). They
may have trouble looking at the mediator, let alone the other party.
When a pre-caucus is used and the other party is not present, this
stakeholder frustration and despair is re-directed in more positive ways.
To have an empathic ear to listen to a stakeholder in such a nonjudgmental way is powerful medicine indeed. I have seen people who
were supposed to be silent types open up and talk freely. Men and
women have wept openly as they released tension. Such emotional
releases are not available to stakeholders in more traditional mediation.
The Exploration of Needs and Benefits of Mediation
The mediator attempts to understand individual items under dispute,
as well as the general perspectives of stakeholders, and helps
stakeholders keep alive the benefits of mediation (in contrast to other
alternatives such as arbitration).
Contributions of caucusing
An important benefit of caucusing is being able to explore beyond
positional bargaining, into stakeholder interests and needs (Fisher, Ury,
& Patton 1991). Stakeholders can also be reminded that mediation
confers tangible benefits over interventions where they have less
control. This is more likely to happen when individuals feel less
vulnerable and defensive, and are more willing to think aloud without
feeling forced into making concessions. A mediator can increase her or
his understanding of the situation through such exploration, but more
important yet, the self-awareness of each stakeholder increases. For
instance, it may become clear that a stakeholder desires an apology,
rather than some other remedy.
Further contributions of pre-caucusing
When disputants enter the joint session with the benefit of a precaucus, the mediator can often take a less visible role. Each stakeholder


comes to the joint session possessing enhanced clarity about the issues
and self-confidence.
In one situation, after I listened to stakeholders during a pre-caucus,
they were able to go on and solve the problem on their own. Bad
feelings had developed between them concerning how each introduced
the other to visitors and the media. Not only did they solve this problem
on their own; they also dealt with related underlying issues, and even
went on to discuss opportunities for future career growth and
cooperation (Billikopf 2000).
As a neutral I sometimes do little more than introduce topics brought
up during the pre-caucus. Allowing the stakeholders to solve an easier
problem early on may give them the needed boost to deal with more
challenging issues later (Blades 1984; Emery & Jackson 1989).
Furthermore, a mediator who understands the issues involved can make
sure that significant issues are not ignored. Despite previous
antagonisms, communication between stakeholders during joint sessions
is sometimes so fast paced that I have to scramble to understand and
note their agreements. At times like these I feel like an unneeded
observer. Setting up a situation where stakeholders address each other
with little mediator interference takes transformative mediation to the
next level. Although not all cases achieve this ultimate success,
mediators can count on better communication flow and reduced
contentiousness between stakeholders.
Educate Stakeholders on Effective Negotiation Skills
One measure of mediation success is when it equips stakeholders to
handle future challenges on their own. While this may not necessarily
happen after a single experience with mediation, the stakeholders can
take with them increased self-awareness and conflict management skills.
Stakeholders may be shown how they can present a perspective
using neutral or non-provocative language (Hobbs 1999) and without
causing the other to lose face. An important part of conflict
management is helping stakeholders recognize the need for the other
party to build and save face (Ting-Toomey 1999; Volkema 1988; Blades
1984; Moore 96). In the absence of these skills, people are likely to
revert to a more dysfunctional and emotional approach to
communication. Participants may also develop a better understanding of
the nature of conflictlearning how to divide big issues into smaller
ones and what constitutes a proper apology, for instance. Both
stakeholders gain negotiation power as they improve their ability to
communicate in effective ways.
Contributions of caucusing
Mediators have the opportunity to privately discuss participant
behaviors that are working, as well as those that are not. This avoids the






appearance of favoritism associated with public compliments, as well as

the loss of face connected with open criticism.
Further contributions of pre-caucusing
It is hard to expect the stakeholders to have a positive mutual
conversation when they lack even the most rudimentary notion of how
their communication strategies affect the other stakeholders. Those who
grasp new insights into the negotiation process early on are more likely
to enter the joint session feeling confident and prepared, with some
control over the results.
Among the potential positive outcomes of transformative mediation
is giving parties the opportunity to apologize and to accept an apology
(Bush & Folger 1994). One stakeholder had a history of vitriolic temper
outbreaks when I first met with him. His anger often manifested in
shouting and profanity. During the pre-caucus, it became increasingly
clear that this stakeholder felt no regret about his temper tantrums. He
was quick to both minimize the extent of his anger, and to justify his
bullying behavior. Had he defended such behavior in a joint session, his
credibility would have been greatly damaged. Through a series of roleplays and conversations during the pre-caucus, he came to understand
the importance of offering an apology for his profanity and anger.
Furthermore, he suggested that the topic be brought up early on in the
joint session so he could have a chance to apologize. During the first
role-play his words had sounded shallow at best. The actual apology
offered during the joint session was moving and sincere.
Regular caucusing has one advantage over pre-caucusing here.
While the mediator can observe and coach a stakeholder during a precaucus, some dysfunctional communication approaches only manifest
themselves during the joint session. This is not a fatal flaw of precaucusing, because a regular caucus can be utilized later to deal with
such issues.
Much of what has been said here also applies to the idea of
appealing to a stakeholders higher principles. Many transformative
opportunities that could otherwise be lost present themselves during the
pre-caucus. For instance, an owner-operator said something touchingly
positive about one of his managers during the pre-caucus. I suggested
that it would be magnificent if he could share that thought with the other
stakeholder during the joint session. The owner explained that he would
never do so. I challenged him to reconsider, but left the ultimate
decision up to him. The individual chose to share the affirming
comment during the joint session, taking ownership for that decision,
thus making it his own.



A number of challenges are associated with caucusing, including:
lack of stakeholder truthfulness (Pruitt et al. 1989; Volkema 1988;
Welton, Pruitt, & McGillicuddy 1988); mediator bias (Blades 1984;
Engram and Markowitz 1985; Moore 1987; Moore 1996; Pruitt et al.
1989; Volkema 1988; Welton, Pruitt, & McGillicuddy 1988); mediator
control or abuse of power (Blades 1984; Folger, Marshall, & Stutman
1997; Keltner 1965; Moore 1987; Moore 1996; Pruitt et al. 1989;
Volkema 1988); reduced likelihood that disputants will know how to
handle future challenges (Pruitt et al. 1989); mediator violation of
confidentiality (Blades 1984; Moore 1987; Moore 1996); interruption of
positive movement (Moore 1996; Welton 1988); and free time for the
other stakeholder to use in an effort to build his or her own case (Welton
Attacks on Directive Mediation
As we shall see, most criticisms associated with caucusing are really
attacks on directive mediation, rather than on caucusing itself. Where
caucusing is instead used to increase stakeholder control through
transformative mediation, most of these objections melt away.
As positive as mediator empathy toward a stakeholder may be, some
fear this may lead to stakeholder untruthfulness. They reason that the
absence of the other party during the caucus leaves the stakeholder free
to exaggerate. Others argue that caucusing may lead to deals between
the neutral party and one of the stakeholders. Disputants often fear that
clandestine deals or coalitions [may take place] between the other party
and the mediator (Moore 1996, p. 200).
Yet others suggest that caucusing simply gives the mediator too
much control, lends itself to abuse of mediator power, and does little to
equip stakeholders for future conflict in life. Instead, they argue,
stakeholders may become more dependent on mediation. Caucuses ...
are explicit attempts to narrow issues, to push for compromise, and to
synthesize arguments and positions. (Folger, Marshall, and Stutman
1997, p. 262). We even read, caucuses provide mediators with the
greatest opportunity to manipulate parties into agreement (Moore 1996,
p. 325). Volkema warns that mediators with a vested interest may
promote one outcome over another (1988). The assumption, in all these
cases, is that agreement is reached during caucusing.
There is nothing inherent in caucusing itself, however, that leads to
these difficulties. Quite the contrary, Engram and Markowitz suggest
that ... the judicious use of caucusing in ... mediation can even enhance
the perception of neutrality and will result in increased trust in the
process of mediation (1985, p. 25). Likewise, where transformative






mediation is used, caucusing may be seen as a tool to help stakeholders

become better negotiators (Bush and Folger 1994).
In transformative mediation where it is the stakeholders who solve
their own disputes, there is little to be gained by attempts to influence
the mediator. Stakeholders need not be concerned that the mediator will
make a secret agreement with the other stakeholders. Caucusing is used
to teach negotiation skills to stakeholders, rather than to circumvent
stakeholder empowerment.
Violation of Confidentiality
Another negative associated with caucusing is the potential for
sharing confidential information obtained from one stakeholder, either
purposely or through a slip. Certainly, mediators need to be careful not
to divulge confidential information. Yet it should be clear that the
purpose of caucusing is to help stakeholders better understand their own
needs and prepare to communicate these to the other party in the joint
sessionnot to talk about issues stakeholders want to keep secret from
the other participant. True, some subjects are originally brought up in a
somewhat raw manner. These are translated into more effective
messages that tend to reduce defensiveness. For instance, if a
stakeholder feels the other is inconsiderate or selfish, the mediator helps
the stakeholder better understand critical incidents that may have led to
this evaluation. During the joint session, the incidents and behaviors are
discussed without the labels.
As a mediator, I note all the issues that are important to stakeholders
during the pre-caucus, and give them a chance to expose these during
the joint session: A, Could you share with B the story you told me
about X. Opportunities are balanced for both stakeholders to bring up
issues that are then jointly discussed.
Sometimes ethical issues require disclosure, such as when a spouse
is hiding an asset from the other during a divorce settlement. In those
situations, Blades (1984) suggests that the mediator make it clear to the
pertinent stakeholder that the neutrals continued involvement in the
mediation depends on the stakeholder disclosing this information to the
other party. Standards have been suggested for issues with and limits to
confidentiality (Milne 1985; Moore 1987). Caucusing does not cause an
inherently unethical situation to develop, however. It simply affords the
mediator an opportunity to help correct an unfair situation. Much of the
controversy surrounding the issue of caucusing ... stems from
differences in training or orientation rather than from a real debate about
ethics (Engram and Markowitz 1985, pp. 24-25).


Interruption of Positive Movement

Caucusing may be called at any time, by stakeholders or by the
mediator. Stakeholders may even wish to caucus within their own team,
without the mediator. Alternatively, the mediator may need time alone
and call a mediator caucus (Castrey and Castrey 1987, p. 15). Any
type of caucusing may interrupt the positive flow of the conversation.
The great advantage of pre-caucusing is that it does not interrupt the
positive flow of communication that may be established during the joint
session. Furthermore, pre-caucusing probably reduces interruptions after
the joint meeting has begun.
Free Time to Solidify Stance
The concern that caucusing permits one party time to further solidify
her or his own stance while the other is engaged in caucusing, is simply
a non-issue. In transformative mediation one of the roles of the mediator
is to help stakeholders consider potential pitfalls. Mediators help
stakeholders truly understand the problem and thus avoid quick
unworkable solutions.

Contention creates a sense of psychological distance between
people, turning even minute differences into ones that seem
insurmountable. A tool of particular value is the caucus, where the
mediator meets separately with stakeholders. The literature has shed
light into both the positive and negative contributions of caucusing.
Positive aspects of caucusing include giving parties an opportunity to
tell their story and be heard, explore needs, and vent privately.
Mediators may also take advantage of caucusing to coach parties and
help them understand the tools that will help them become better
negotiators in the future.
Interestingly, most of the criticisms associated with caucusing derive
from a directive mediation approach. When caucusing is used within a
transformative framework, most of these potential negatives disappear.
In transformative mediation the stakeholders remain the primary actors.
Not only do the contending parties retain control over the outcome, they
are also equipped with many of the tools they will need to solve future
problems: A skillful transformative mediator can use caucuses in a
manner that not only avoids the problem-solving pitfalls [found in the
directive approach] but actually builds transformative momentum over
the course of a session (Bush and Folger, 1994, p. 270).
Although in the literature we find some allusions to the benefits of
the pre-caucus, very little is said explicitly about it. When pre-caucusing






is used with a transformative approach to mediation, the benefits of

caucusing are multiplied, and the potential negatives are further reduced.
The main reason why pre-caucusing is effective is that the mediator
affords each stakeholder the opportunity to be heard when he or she
needs it the most. A conflict situation that calls for mediation, almost by
definition, is a difficult one. Stakeholders are most often focused
internally and have little capacity to listen to someone else at the
beginning of mediation. This internal focus tends to extinguish creativity
by increasing negative emotion and defensiveness. A stakeholder who
feels heard in the pre-caucus is better able to listen to the other
stakeholder and to connect in a more positive way. The groundwork laid
out during the pre-caucus allows stakeholders to address each other with
little mediator interference.
Mediation has the potential to do much good. Poorly carried out
mediation, where contenders feel they can exchange insults in a
psychologically safer environment, can do more harm than other forms
of neutral-party interventions. The pre-caucus affords mediators the
opportunity to make difficult decisions as to whether to bring contenders
into a joint session.
Sometimes the most productive approaches are the simplest, and this
is certainly true with the pre-caucus. Caucusing as a mediation tool has
been partially misunderstood and certainly has not been used to its

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