Visions of Vienna: Alternative Resolutions Goes Abroad

Travel abroad—it expands your horizons and perspectives, whether it is for vacation or your profession. You learn about and experience another culture and language, history and geography.  It changes you. You return with some new insight and an appreciation for the bounties we have in the United States of America.

At the end of June I participated as an assessor in the second annual Consensual Dispute Resolution Competition (CDRC), an international mediation competition in Vienna Austria. There were students from diverse fields of study representing universities from Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States who had been selected to compete in Vienna in this mediation competition. Over 50 dispute resolution professionals from 25 different jurisdictions across the world brought their varied experience and expertise as mediators and negotiators themselves.  There were four preliminary rounds, followed by semi-final and final rounds over four days. New confidential facts were added to the case study at each round thereby increasing the challenge for the teams. [Read more…]

Meditations on Mediations: Looking back on a year of challenging cases


As I write this a few crocuses have poked their heads out of the sodden soil but the forsythia, a harbinger of spring me is not yet in bloom! This winter just doesn’t want to let go !

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This month’s article is a reflection of some of my recent cases and lessons learned.

Last year was a breakthrough year on many fronts for Alternative Resolutions, LLC. We developed new strategic partnerships and grew our client base.   We were fortunate to have the opportunity to handle some interesting and challenging mediation cases. In this blog post I want to summarize a few of these cases, and reflect upon lessons learned. Looking back on my experiences provides a window into the process of mediation: its strategies, difficulties, and benefits. Since mediation is confidential I have altered some facts in the case summaries to protect this private and confidential process.

There were various factors at play that made some cases this year challenging. The disputants’ status and reputation within their organization were an issue in a handful of cases. Post-traumatic stress disorder was a factor in several cases, requiring careful and sensitive management. In some matters parties had equivalent amounts of power, whereas in others one party was responsible to the other, who was a high level manager. As I describe in my post on conflict climate, interpersonal communication is ultimately a collaborative task, and this kind of institutional power imbalance can add an extra layer of complexity to a dialogue.

What are some lessons that can be learned and shared? To reflect appropriately I turned to a book by Michael Lang and Alison Taylor titled The Making of a Mediator: Developing Artistry in Practice. [1] Lang and Taylor pose that “to attain artistry requires three essential elements: practice skills, theoretical knowledge and the ability to make useful and appropriate connections between theory and practice.”[2] Reflection, then, is the process by which practitioners integrate these three elements. It occurs both during the mediation and afterwards, as the practitioner dissects and analyzes the case. The authors then describe that there are six hallmarks of artistry in professional mediation practice: attention to detail, curiosity, exploration and discovery, developing and testing formulations, interpretation, and patience and vision.[3] In the case discussion below I have explored how these benchmarks played a role in my work and in determining the outcomes that were achieved. [Read more…]

Featured Guest Post: What Every CEO Needs to Know About ADR, Part II

Last month Doug Wendt of Wendt Partners interviewed me for the Wendt Partners blog, asking me to elaborate on ADR and its relevance to the business community.

I published Part I of the interview last week, here’s Part II:

WP: What is mediation, and what makes it different from arbitration?

EK: Mediation is a process whereby a neutral third-party facilitates communication between the parties in dispute, so that they can develop options and resolve the dispute themselves. In mediation, the parties make the decision – whereas in arbitration, the arbitrator has authority and decides. Mediation is a much more flexible process than arbitration. Mediation decisions, if they are entered into a court order or are signed by the parties, are binding.

WP: Outside of disputes, how does an expert such as yourself assist companies proactively (i.e. facilitation, strategy, planning, visioning)?

EK: When a business leader needs to be an active participant in an important meeting or when there are strategic issues that need thorough discussion and brainstorming, a neutral facilitator provides assistance with the design and conduct of that discussion. In this way, the executive can be fully engaged in the discussion and not worry about keeping the agenda on schedule or assuring the meeting objectives have been made.

According to the Wharton Center for Applied Research, the average CEO spends 17 hours per week in meetings, senior executives an average of 23 hours, and middle managers 11 hours. And according to senior and middle managers themselves, only 56% of these meetings are productive. These unproductive dialogues translate into millions of dollars of wasted time. An experienced facilitator will work with the leader in making sure that the expected outcomes of the meeting are met and the discussion produces the desired results. [Read more…]

Featured Guest Post: What Every CEO Needs to Know About ADR, Part I

Last month Doug Wendt of Wendt Partners interviewed me for the Wendt Partners blog, asking me to elaborate on ADR and its relevance to the business community. I’ll be re-posting the interview, as posted on the Wendt Partners blog, in two parts. Check out Part I below.

WP: What, in a summary, is alternative dispute resolution?

EK: Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR for short, is a catchall term which refers to a range of dispute process options for resolving conflict rather than the traditional American adversarial process. It is often referred to as “appropriate dispute resolution”, because it is tailored to the needs of the parties and the dispute. Commonly known processes usually included in the ADR umbrella include mediation, arbitration, conciliation and fact finding, to name a few. Some of these processes are a form of outcome prediction, like early neutral evaluation or summary jury trials. Others, like mediation, are a form of process assistance.
The common thread in all ADR systems is that they are private and confidential. The parties have greater control over the outcome and usually the issues are resolved faster – and at a far lower cost – than through litigation. In addition, most ADR processes foster self-determination and allow for creative solutions.

WP: What are the most common situations in which dispute resolution becomes important?

EK: Dispute resolution becomes important when a conflict starts taking the business owner or his or her key executives away from their core mission. Poorly managed conflict damages reputations, wastes time, poisons relationships and costs money. An astute business executive will seek out advice from human resources or legal counsel before relationships with colleagues, suppliers, customers and employees are jeopardized. [Read more…]

Dispute Mediation: Mandatory Assignment or Free Choice in Mediator Selection

A mortgage broker, upon learning about the various venues where I mediate asked, “Are you chosen or mandated?” This is an important and brilliant question and I’d like to explain the difference between the two forms of mediator selection and why this is important.

Mandated Dispute Resolution

Many institutions, largely federal government agencies and courts, as well as an increasing number of large corporations, have mandatory dispute resolution systems in place at present.   Two federal statutes, the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 and the  Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 1998, both passed by Congress in the Clinton Administration are largely responsible for the growth of federal sector dispute resolution.   Each agency’s program is a little different.  Some rely on the federal shared neutrals program which provides collateral duty mediators from different federal agencies at no charge.   Other agencies have one or more contracts with dispute resolution companies that run national or regional dispute resolution rosters.  In this case the contractor functions like a roster manager and chooses a neutral dispute resolution provider who is the right fit for the case and available.    So while the complainant generally chooses to participate in mediation in many federal programs a mediator is appointed to their case by the roster manager.    [Read more…]

Recognize Hot Spots to Better Manage Conflict

Earlier this month I facilitated an executive management retreat for a large non-profit community health organization. When brainstorming opportunities for improvement one individual stated, “We need a strategy to deal with red alerts when they happen.” Everyone in the room smiled, instantly recognizing what she was referring to.  This was clearly a high performing team, with enough self-knowledge to recognize their hot buttons and enough courage and openness to share them with their colleagues.

What are hot spots or red alerts?

Hot spots or triggers are very individualized.  What sets off one person may not even register on the radar for another.  [Read more…]

Managing Conflict in the Telework Environment

One night last week I gave a guest lecture on conflict management and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for a graduate organizational development class, Managing People and Groups in the Global Workplace,  for University of Maryland University College.   The professor invited me to share information about workplace conflict resolution because these students will eventually be leaders and have to know about resources for conflict management.

I  reviewed the history and development of ADR in the federal and private sectors.  We talked about conflict management strategies and the basic conflict management skills of listening, negotiation, investigation and reframing.  One class member asked the following question:  “With the increase in tele-work and the growth of organizations which include offices around the globe how does that impact conflict resolution in the workplace?”

With the growth of tele-working and remote workplaces there is less direct face-to-face communication between people.   This means that the body language component of human communication, which is 55% and the tone of voice component, which is 38% are largely missing.  Written communication must be crystal clear in these types of workplaces.  It is also vital that managers set clear expectations when communication is unclear and conflict and misunderstanding percolates in the organization.  [Read more…]

ADR Overview: Fitting the Forum to the Fuss

Wise elders in many Native American communities were the first dispute resolution professionals!! While these councils have been part of the fabric of their communities for several centuries, dispute resolution is a relatively new industry. As a profession it is in its infancy. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is an umbrella term for a variety of different processes, which are designed to handle different kinds of conflicts without going to court. ADR is sometimes referred to as Appropriate Dispute Resolution or “fit the forum to the fuss”. Before reviewing some of the key processes a little historical perspective is in order.

[Read more…]