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Temple Grandin and the ABA DR Section Meetings in Denver

From the ADR Prof blog

As Jill mentioned last week, the Indisputably crew was assembled in Denver for the ABA DR Section meetings last week. It was good, as always, to hang out w/ the crew – and rumor has it that there are some incriminating photos that may make it on the blog. Luckily they’re all family friendly. Readers know that we’re big fans of this conference, and if the economy kept you away this year, start saving for next year’s conference in Washington DC.

The highlight of the conference was hearing Temple Grandin speak. You may have heard her on NPR or seen the HBO bio-pic (which is quite good) or you may have purchased a book or two of hers. She is a high-functioning autistic who is an animal sciences professor at Colorado State University, but she’s much more than that. Her talk focused on the different ways that people think and how it is that we in the ADR community need to be cognizant that others think differently than we do. She gave a couple of examples, two of which I want to focus upon.

First, she asked us to think of a church steeple. She said that for most people in the audience an image of a steeple simply appears, and she flashed an image of a typical church steeple on the screen. For her, she sees a series of photos of steeples – the one on the church a block from her house, the one at the church she attended as a child, the ones at Notre Dame in Paris, the steeple at the church around the corner from the hotel – which she flashed on the screen in progression. As you’d expect, this visual was attention getting. After seeing this series of snapshots in her head, she’s able to come up with a composite image of what a steeple is.

Secondly, the series of photographs is an example of the fact that some people are data driven – kind of like scientists. Before they can come to any conclusions about a situation, they need to see the data. The data then can be arranged into categories or certain patterns appear, which can then be formed into conclusions. This “bottom-up” type of thinking is contrasted with a “top-down” kind of thinking that is more prevaluent. In this second kind of thinking, people form a conclusion w/out understanding why, then they focus on the data points that support their conclusion. This observation struck a chord with me. As someone who teaches using the ladder of influence from the book Difficult Conversations, I’ve often said that this is how lawyers work – start w/ a conclusion and then look for anything that supports that conclusion.

We know that good investigators use the data driven method, and as ADR professionals we have to do this simply to understand what’s going on in the conflicts we’re asked to assist with. Obviously good lawyers should also do this, but I’m not as optimistic on that front. It’s contrary to our nature as advocates – unless it favors us. But even if it doesn’t, working in this method should prepare us better for the counterarguments we likely will have to make.

I want to thank Conferece Chair Dave Aemmer, Chief Circuit Mediator for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, who came up with the idea of having Grandin speak at the conference and contacted her to make the ask. Count me in her legion of fans and I look forward to reading her books.


Art Hinshaw

Art Hinshaw’s research and teaching interests lie in the field of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), primarily mediation and negotiation. His research bridges ADR theory and practice, and his teaching responsibilities include the Lodestar Mediation Clinic and Negotiation among other ADR courses. Professor Hinshaw is active in the ADR community having… MORE >

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