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The World Has Lost A Great Mediator In The Passing Of Ted Kheel

From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.

I had noticed in the New York Times that a prominent labor and international mediator, Ted Kheel just passed away at age 96. I also want to thank my fellow mediator Mike Young for pointing out the obituary in the L.A. Times, which also addressed some of Mr. Kheel’s viewpoints. I thought it would be appropriate to discuss a few of his thoughts, as identified in the recent articles.

According to the L.A. Times,

An expert negotiator and mediator, Kheel would ask both sides to tell him, in front of their opponents, exactly what they wanted so he could identify the key issues.

“The essence of mediation is getting information,” Kheel said in a 1970 profile in the New Yorker. “The dirtiest question you can ask in bargaining is, ‘What will you settle for?’ If you ask that question, you ought to resign, but that’s the question you must have an answer to. You get it by asking every question except that. What’s left over is the answer.”

(See L.A. Times article

In addition, ANDREW C. REVKIN in an opinion piece in the New York Times wrote, “Kheel also had a great way of dissecting a disagreement as a first step toward resolving it. Too often, he told me many times, parties in conflict clash over a tangle of overlapping rights and interests, when the route to resolving each kind of dispute is very different.

A right is something delineated under a contract or law — the kind of thing you can take before a judge, he’d say. An interest is a stake, delineated by a mix of power, history, negotiating skill, greed and other softer factors.”

The New York Times also interviewed him on video and he explained that he doesn’t ask the parties when he gets them together, “what do they want and why?” Instead, he asks only, “What do they want?” He explained that in explaining what they want, the other side often sees that they had a misunderstanding as to the specifics of what the opposing side wanted, and in doing so, can also understand the reason why.


Steve Mehta

Steven G. Mehta is an attorney and mediator providing unique mediation services in a variety of types of civil litigation. His ability to understand the human process and complex emotional issues involved in legal negotiations enables him to effectively assist the parties in obtaining the best possible results during mediation.… MORE >

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