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Book Review: Improvisational Negotiation: A Mediator’s Stories of Conflict About Love, Money, Anger – and the Strategies that Resolved Them

With his new book, Improvisational Negotiation, Jeff Krivis reveals himself as one of the top storytellers in the mediation profession today. Krivis’ style in Improvisational Negotiation makes the reader feel that you are right in the midst of his mediations. Treating yourself to this book is like signing on for a delightful internship with an experienced mediator from the comfort of your easy chair.

The book is comprised of stories that reflect Krivis’s view that a mediator must always be prepared to work improvisationally and creatively, as no two cases are the same. The stories are organized into three sections: (1) Human v. Human: Healing Relationships; (2) “Show Me the Money (or Something of Equal Value)!”: Creative Solutions; and (3) Getting to the Bottom Line. Within each section there are many stories illustrating an “improvisational” approach to mediation. Each story concludes with a brief evaluation of the process and why the mediation succeeded.

The final section of the book is called A Mediator’s Hip-Pocket Guide to Strategy, which is a clever synopsis of the key mediation strategies that are used in one or more of the preceding stories. Some of the more intriguing techniques described by Krivis – all with catchy names – are: Reality Television; Role Play; Speaking the Client’s Language; Transparency; Avoiding the Winner’s Curse; Counterintuitive Thinking; Face-to-Face; “Final Jeopardy” Mediation; The Headline; You Pick the Music; The Double-Blind Proposal; and The Vin Scully. (The hip pocket guide would be a bit more user-friendly with an indication of which stories illustrate particular techniques.)

The clear impression left by these stories is that Jeff Krivis is one calm, cool, and collected mediator who is as adept at reading emotions as he is at improvising the necessary closing approach. In his opening story about a wrongful termination/reduction in force case, Krivis describes how the mediator (who may be Krivis or one of several IAM members whose stories Krivis incorporates along with his own) uncovers in caucus that the discharged employee was an orphan who felt that the firm which had just terminated him was his first real home. When the mediator tells the management team that he is recommending a joint session, the boss responds, “What is this, a settlement negotiation or a group therapy session?” (p. 13). Sometimes it is both. In this instance, plaintiff’s emotional story combined with some fear of losing (artfully raised by the mediator) led to a resolution that included a consulting agreement between the parties. An elegant process resulted in an elegant solution.

Krivis makes “improvisational” mediation seem effortless, but in mediation as in improvisational comedy “[h]ow good people’s decisions are under the fast moving, high-stress conditions of rapid recognition is a function of training and rules and rehearsal.” Malcolm Gladwell, Blink (pp. 112-17). I believe that Krivis’s impressive improvisational talent also reflects his “elder’s wisdom.” His stories incorporate many core values honored by the Lakota, such as humility, perseverance, respect, honor, truth, compassion, bravery, fortitude, generosity and wisdom (see Joseph M. Marshall III, The Lakota Way). I recommend Improvisational Negotiation for all those seeking the value of an internship with a talented mediator.


Jeffrey Krivis

Improvisational Negotiation. This phrase summarizes Krivis’ philosophy for a successful and dynamic mediated negotiation. A successful mediation needs both keen legal insight gained from years of litigation experience and cannot be scripted. Exploring this idea with further study led Krivis to venture on the stage as a stand-up comedian. Ultimately,… MORE >


Joe Epstein

Joe Epstein received his law degree from New York University School of Law in 1969, where he served as a student editor of NYU's Annual Survey of American Law. He received his mediation training at CDR Associates, Harvard University's School of Public Health, Pepperdine University's School of Law and Chapman… MORE >

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