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Splendid New “Must-Have” Book on Mediation

Business Conflict Blog by Peter Phillips

Of all the volumes on mediation — many of them very good, some of them of great practical value — few are “must-have” volumes, in my mind.  One “must-have” is Dwight Golann’s Mediating Legal Disputes.  It is well-thumbed and as recently as last night I had occasion to pull it down to review techniques for overcoming impasse.

At the ICC International Commercial Mediation Competition in Paris earlier this month I was pleased to learn that my friend and colleague Thierry Garby had released a book on mediation, Agreed!  Of course I bought it.  But I didn’t realize at the time just how very good it is.  It joins Prof. Golann’s volume as a “must-have.”

Thierry’s careful, mindful and comprehensive understanding of mediation is based not on inspirational or aspirational vision, but on small, experiential observations, that are piled upon each other.  The result is a compendium of insights and guidance of great authority.

A random example of what I mean is a section on the technique of reframing — what Thierry reframes as “reformulation,” and distinguishes from other closely related skills  He defines the technique as offering “as summary of what was said in words showing what the listener understands in an effort to reflect as well as possible what the speaker is trying to express.”

That definition alone rewards analysis.  It is not the restatement of what the speaker just said in an effort to show that the speaker has been heard, or to defuse its objectionable or finger-pointing elements to make it less objectionable to the other listeners at the table.  Nor is it an effort to clarify the content of what was said.  It is an effort to state what the listener understands the speaker is trying to say.  And, good teacher that he is, Thierry gives examples:

Initial Speech:  When I left home this morning, I quickly put my coat on but when I got in the car I felt bundled up and I had to take it off.

Repetition: You put your coat on when leaving the house this morning and when you arrived at the car, you took it off because you did not want to be bundled up.

Paraphrase: So you first put your coat on.  That was when you left home.  Then you took it off because it was bothering you when you were driving.

Reformulation: I understand that you were cold when you left home.  Nevertheless you took your coat off to not be hemmed in when driving.

The “reformulation” differs from the repetition or the paraphrase because it doesn’t seek to say back what was heard in different words, but instead to “add sense to the words… to deepen your understanding even when the words were perfectly clear.”  It is, in effect, the listener’s invitation to the initial speaker “to clarify what really matters to him.”

This is good stuff, and the book abounds with similar examples to support meaningful and nuances ideas.  No skill of mediation escapes the author’s attention and analysis, with a tone always to incite revisiting, refreshening and adjustment of one’s understanding.

Thierry told me that publication was delayed for over a year because he labored to translate it into English himself.  Certain idioms suggest that the task might have been better assigned to someone other than the author.  But why quibble?  This is solid gold.

In his Foreword, Thomas J. Stipanowich captures the essence of what makes the book distinctive:

[Garby is a] wide-ranging, captivating  enthusiast who brings his own form of brio to all aspects of life…. Appropriately, his primary emphasis in these pages is the importance of emotions — the human need for love and belonging, the esteem of others and ourselves… that is, it is focused on negotiation and the heart, as opposed to the head….  Garby consistently promotes the centrality of emotions as the “gas and the engine” of conflicts….

It’s a wonderful book, chock full of insight and guidance, and very highly recommended.


F. Peter Phillips

F. Peter Phillips is a commercial arbitrator and mediator with substantial experience providing consultation on the management of business disputes to companies around the globe. A cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College and a magna cum laude graduate of New York Law School, Mr. Phillips served for nearly ten years… MORE >

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