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Get To The Bottom Line!

“Man does not live by words alone,
despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them.”
—Adlai Stevenson

In the course of a negotiation, when one side or the other says to the mediator, usually with a calculated measure of scorn: “Tell him to get to the bottom line!” it is not necessarily time for the mediator or the other party to rejoice.

What the speaker really says is: “Tell him to get to MY bottom line.” If plaintiff, don’t confuse that with a ship’s keel. If defendant, don’t misread it as the peak of the main topgallant mast.

Now, in fairness, the comment often is borne of frustration, and the speaker then commences to move in a substantial way to encourage a response in kind from the other side. That’s good, and it warms the cockles of the mediator’s heart.

On the other hand, if it is meant merely to rush the process and the other side is neither willing nor prepared to do so, it can only cause aggravation and exacerbate the frustration.

As every good negotiator knows from experience, negotiation involves both art and craft. It is a process, often a painfully slow one, that, when pursued with patience and temperance, does, somehow, in most cases, achieve resolution, a settlement, which, while not necessarily prompting a bacchanalia by either side, offers indisputable advantage to both. They call it a Win/Win.

A mediator can be caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If he or she accedes to the “rush” command, an impasse can result. If the mediator appeals for patience and urges the parties to let the process work, he or she may be accused of seeking personal gain from the additional time involved.

I think I can speak for most mediators in saying that nothing gives us greater pleasure than helping disputants settle their differences. If that takes twenty minutes, more power to them and to the process. Nothing, absolutely nothing, disillusions a mediator more than a six, eight or ten hour mediation that ends in impasse.

In mediation, the best of all worlds involves a combination of many things: attorney, adjuster and mediator skills, mutual respect, an honest, patient, straightforward effort on the part of each participant, and a willingness to let a proven process work its magic, whether in five minutes or five hours.

Remember, if you don’t resolve that dispute, a costly, protracted, stressful and uncertain future lies ahead.


Edward P. Ahrens

Ed Ahrens has been a member of the Florida Bar for over 43 years. He is a certified state and federal court mediator in Tampa, Florida. He is also a freelance writer and former president of National Writers Association, South Florida Chapter. He is the author of the popular book,… MORE >

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