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Mediation Advocacy: The Power Of The Story

I’ve been accused of Kumbaya here (ask some of my litigation opponents if you want to check out the truth of that particular canard).

It’s true that in addition to position-based competitive negotiation strategy and tactics in my mediation practice, I also facilitate what I believe to be the far more effective interest-based collaborative negotiation model, aimed at creating greater “deal” opportunities and avoiding mediation’s bad reputation for splitting the baby in half (heard in the hallway:  “anyone can divide by two”).

In addition to encouraging parties to ask diagnostic questions to ascertain the preferences, interests, needs and fears of their bargaining partners, I also encourage story-telling as a means to slip under the barricade of reactive devaluation, avoid the roadblocks created by the clustering illusion, overcome confirmation bias, and generally clear the air of the many other cognitive biases that keep us from entering into the best business deal possible under the circumstances.

Why stories?  In a recent post on the importance of stories to effectively market one’s work (here, one’s blog) Problogger provided just a few of the  ways in which story-telling improves communication (these will also help with the jury, of course):

  • Stories engage the imagination of readers
  • Stories go beyond facts and theories
  • Stories reveal something about yourself as a blogger (they’re personal)
  • Stories trigger emotions and the senses
  • Stories are conversational they stimulate others to react and tell their stories
  • Stories provide hooks for readers to latch onto in your blogging (they’re relatable)
  • Stories grab and hold the attention of readers
  • Stories are memorable – while people don’t always latch onto facts and figures – a good story can be remembered for years
  • Stories illustrate your points in ways that can be much more convincing (and convicting) than other types of information

I was talking to a friend recently about ways in which to talk about a difficult subject with a friend whose opinions radically diverged from his own.

“Share your experience,” I said.  “Tell your story rather than expressing your opinion.  An opinion is assailable. Your personal experience – the reasons why you feel the way you do about, say, gay marriage, abortion rights or any other “hot topic” issues – is unassailable.  It will also create a bridge of understanding between you, encouraging your friend to share his experiences that lead him to disagree so fundamentally with you.  You will inevitably find parts of your life-experience that are similar, sometimes even the same.  Focus on those similarities in experience rather than differences in opinion and you will find yourself and your friend happily agreeing to disagree on positions, theories and beliefs, in favor of a new and potentially trusting relationship.”

If that is Kumbaya, so be it.  I must say, however, that it is also international diplomacy.  War, after all, is both easy and lucrative.  Peace, on the other hand, is difficult and underrated, even scorned. Choose wisely.  Our own future and that of our children and our children’s children depend upon it.


Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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