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Formula for Success

I don’t know about all of you, but I don’t do math in public or care for those crazy formulas for figuring stuff out.  However, I have devised a formula for success in mediating and fostering positive interactions and outcomes which I have come to appreciate and believe is worthy of sharing in public.  So, you might ask what is this formula you speak about?  It is C + S + T – AR = SI, which formulates to collaboration plus synergy plus teamwork minus adversarial relationships equals successful interactions. 


Collaboration-The situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve a similar objective.

Synergy-the increased effectiveness that results when two or more people or businesses work together.

Teamwork-the work done by people who work together as a team to achieve something.

Adversarial Relationship-involving two or more people or two sides who oppose each other.


Over the past 19 years of mediating I have learned that this formula has enhanced the mediation, facilitation, and communication experiences if the participants embrace collaborative efforts and attempt to break down barriers and build bridges…  This formula is a great process to attempt to bring about positive change and interactions between various groups such as labor and management partnerships, supervisor and subordinate relationships, co-workers, etc.  Something else that sticks in my mind which dates back to 1961from President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech when he said:  “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” And “Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us!”  Those words really bring together the concept of the formula and foster the reasoning behind the mediation/negotiation realm and necessity to foster positive collaborative partnerships aimed at building trust. 

It is essential prior to any interaction(s) to attempt to go into the meeting with a collaborative and synergistic approach to start out in an effort to keep the interactions positive and moving in a forward direction.  Sometimes collaborating and strengthening coalitions with other resources is essential to effectively increase the odds of gathering support, resolving disputes, opening lines of communication, and repairing relationships.  The central focus must delve into the underlying interests rather than positions or demands of all parties and is a critical component to this success formula.   

Another vital component is to intertwine neutral communication into the interactions rather than either party resorting to demands or force because if that happens it creates a barrier to resolution.  I can’t stress enough the importance of effective two-way communication, seeking clarification, and focusing on interests rather than positions.  To help illustrate what I mean I will share this short story:  A large ocean liner was headed across the Atlantic from Portsmouth to New York.  As it neared its destination at night, a lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, ‘Light, bearing on the starboard bow.’ ‘Is it steady or moving astern?’ the captain called out.  The lookout replied, Steady, captain,’ which meant that they were on a collision course.  The captain then called to the signalman, ‘Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.’ Back came a signal, ‘Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.’ The captain said, ‘Send, I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees.’ ‘I’m a seaman, second class,’ came the reply. ‘You had better change course 20 degrees.’ By that time the captain was furious.  He spat out,’ Send, This is the mighty ocean liner, HMS Franconia.  Change course 20 degrees.’ Back came the flashing light,’ this is a lighthouse, suggest you change course 20 degrees.”– Anonymous author.  Hopefully this story helped emphasize the importance of open communication and the need for focus on interests and moving away from a positional mindset to avoid adverse ramifications.

Obviously when people are in conflict teamwork is one of the last things anyone is thinking about.  As a mediator you want to always keep the teamwork concept and acronym for TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) mindset and try to help parties come together to reach  workable solutions while always maintaining your neutrality because it can help bridge the gap and aide resolution efforts.   Not to mention if an on-going professional work relationship is part of the situation it is even more important to break the barriers and build a bridge to get the people to a point they can become a team and utilize the enhanced relationship to build synergy within the organization.

Trust is another critical factor of the mediation process and part of one of my Five Pillars of Successful Interactions.  One critical element as a mediator is to establish trust in the negotiation process and your role as a mediator.  This often develops over time and multiple exposures to the process.  However as a mediator you know we don’t have that option very often to let the process build upon the trust factor.  Think about the quote, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression!”  With that in mind, having the ability to rapidly build trust and rapport as a mediator is an essential skill to possess.   You must demonstrate your trustworthiness from initial pre-mediation efforts and throughout the process and build upon that foundation, especially if you know you will at some point be involved with any of the participants in the future.  A friend of mine shared with me that relationships of trust depend on our willingness to look not only to our own interests, but also the interests of others.

When negotiating your reputation is critical to the process and can become a beneficial tool to aid the negotiation process.  Always strive to build a reputation that paves the way for positive interactions.  Make it a point to do your best to be a game changer.  Ensure you emanate a positive and optimistic presence.  Winston Churchill once said:   “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity but the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”   So, go forth and create those opportunities for game changing moments.


Steven Goldman

Mr. Steven C. Goldman is currently a Department of Veterans Affairs Certified Mediator based in Saint Petersburg, Florida.   In this position, he mediates internal VA employee complaints of unlawful discrimination and harassment claims to include workplace and interpersonal issues as well as provides advice and ADR services to internal and… MORE >

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