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Getting Over ‘The Bump In The Road’

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Every  once in awhile – perhaps more often than we care to acknowledge – negotiations hit a “bump in the road” and seem to get stuck, going nowhere fast.

In “Solving Stalemates” published in the January 23, 2008 Los Angeles Daily Journal, p.6, (Vol. 121, No. 14)©, Marin County Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee, and mediator Matthew N. White, Esq. offer ten (10) simple, common-sense (yet often overlooked) suggestions on how to get over the “bump in the road.” They include calling a recess, changing the subject, asking for help, reviewing the progress made, visualizing settlement, reaching small or partial agreements, considering further fact-gathering, checking in with each other, monitoring your own internal response and finally giving permission to the parties not to settle.

Calling  a recess. Sometimes it helps to take a break, to step away from the dispute, focus your mind on other things, perhaps take a walk or work-out (many have told me that they think best while lifting weights, jogging, cycling or swimming laps). During those moments, the light bulb may suddenly light up and the solution (resolution?) comes to you.

Closely tied to the above is changing the subject. Engage in small talk or talk about other issues. By relaxing your mind or mentally moving on to other things, engaging in some free flowing thinking or brainstorming, you may suddenly come upon the way to resolve the issue.

The third suggestion – asking for help – acknowledges that impasse is not an evil thing. No matter how brilliant or creative we may be, each of us gets stuck at times. By asking for and receiving help, we bring a fresh perspective to the issue: Because of our closeness to the dispute, we may have become “blinded by the light.” While we can’t “see” the solution, it may be obvious to the stranger responding to our request for help.

Often, by simply reviewing how far along the parties have come in resolving the dispute, they become buoyed by the progress and will make the push to keep going to reach the “finish line.” Thus, simply reviewing the positive aspects of the day’s negotiations can energize both the parties and the mediation.

An interesting suggestion is to visualize the settlement. Imagine what it would feel like if the dispute is resolved and you could get on with your life. Where the payment of money is involved as part of the settlement, visualize the various ways in which you could spend that money. In contrast, also  visualize having to litigate the dispute, that is, having to participate in a trial. If  you feel that the mediation, itself, is intimidating, visualize how much more intimidating will be the trial, and sitting in a courtroom for several hours a day for several days or weeks.

Another suggestion is to reach agreements on the smaller, easier issues. I learned long ago that by resolving the smaller, easier issues first, the parties build up momentum and “good vibrations” that will get them through negotiating the tougher, more difficult and thornier issues.

Sometimes, it is necessary to take a break in order to gather more information. I have conducted many mediations in which the parties agreed they were missing a vital piece of information that will make the difference in the compromise they are willing to reach. So, we adjourn the mediation, setting a firm date for the second session then and there to keep the pressure on the parties to do their homework and return prepared to negotiate a resolution.

Two suggestions that some may find difficult to implement are to check in with each other and with yourself. Find out what is restraining the other (and yourself) at the moment from resolving the dispute. These impediments may very likely be at the emotional and/or visceral levels – and so, in essence, are questions addressed to your gut, not to your intellect. Consequently, you may or may not get an honest answer.

Finally, it is okay not to settle. There is an adage: The “right” settlement at the “wrong” time is the “wrong” settlement. Give the others and yourself permission to not settle. Perhaps, the timing is simply not right, and either you and/or the others need to “chew on it” for awhile before  being ready to end the dispute and letting it go!

. . . Just  something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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