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Legal Disputes are Parts of Something Greater

Dispute Settlement Counsel by Michael Zeytoonian.

What if we began to see disputes as a small part of something bigger? If we viewed them as a point along a spectrum with a greater continuum? If we placed the dispute within the context of one or more larger relationships?

When we do this, we free ourselves to treat the dispute differently. This adjustment of our focus goes a long way toward helping us manage disputes much more efficiently and resolve them more completely.

Recently I attended the 14th annual Forum of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) in San Antonio, Texas. The IACP includes Collaborative Law practice groups from over twenty countries, has over 5,000 members and continues to grow since its beginnings in 2000. This year’s Forum theme was “The Power of Collective Wisdom”. One Plenary speaker was internationally known George P?r, a Hungarian-born American living in London, the founder of CommunityIntelligence Ltd. Por provided the impetus and structure for a creative “World Café” brainstorming session during the Forum. The other speaker was Alan Briskin, co-founder of The Collective Wisdom Initiative and a pioneer in the field of organizational learning. Briskin initiated the weekend long process focusing on the power of collective wisdom.

The hallmark of the IACP Forum is its out of the box thinking, creative energy and exchange of ideas, generated by dozens of workshops, presenters and 500-600 free thinking, energized attendees from all across the U.S., Canada, Europe, the United Kingdom and even Hong Kong and Singapore. From the collective wisdom generated by this year’s Forum, one of my takeaways was the notion of being part of a greater whole and a larger community.

Seeing ourselves as part of a much larger context is both energizing and humbling. It gives me both a sense of security and a sense of adventure and the humility to recognize that the work I do is just a drop in a river’s flow in a certain direction. It’s similar to standing on either rim of the Grand Canyon and realizing in an energizing yet humbling way that each of us is part of a much larger context, a history of tens of thousands of years.

I am still thinking about an empowering and motivating insight that Por offered us during the Forum: “Each of us is the result of four billion years of evolutionary success.” He then added this charge to us, both individually and collectively: “Act Like It!”

My chosen profession is resolving disputes efficiently and productively, so my thought is this: What if the people in a dispute looked at their dispute as a small part of a much larger relationship? The relationship is the context; the dispute is just a passing moment, a subset of that relationship’s continuum. Whether it is a business, employment, contractual, family or marital relationship, all of them form larger contexts for a dispute to breathe within. And each of them is part of one or more even larger relationships – civic, business sector, religious institution, sports team, educational setting, workplace, gender, community, race, ethnicity, state, nation and lastly, one integrated universe.

How does this insight change how we approach and handle resolving a dispute? When the adversarial, positional nature of a dispute gives way to satisfying the interest of maintaining the health of these relationships and meeting the goals of both sides, it changes the essence of the dispute. Think about how we react when someone we don’t know has wronged us. Before we release the road range persona within us, how would our response be different if the person that wronged us turns around and it is someone we know, like and/or respect. Think about how our initial negative reaction to someone’s actions changes when we learn something about that person’s circumstances that immediately changes our emotional or rational response. One of my collaborative lawyer colleagues once commented on how the unexpected demeanor of an adversary in a case changed her planned response: “Man, what he said and the way he said it just sucked the adversarial attitude right out of me.”

A dispute is not an isolated event or a solitary happening. If there was no relationship between two people or entities, it would be impossible for a dispute to arise. A dispute grows out of a relationship but it should never overshadow or overwhelm that relationship. Something or many things connect people; something within that connectedness then lobbies for separation and works to break the connection. As lawyers and professional neutrals, we have a choice. We can either focus our energies and talents on maintaining and strengthening the connections between people we counsel, or be agents of division and separation.

“Each of us is the result of four billion years of evolutionary success.” When we truly do act like it, and tap into our collective wisdom, we can transform any dispute back into the larger context of the relationship and connection from which it arose.

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Michael A. Zeytoonian

Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education… MORE >

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