Saturday, April 19, 2008

Stupid Mediator Tricks (4)

Visualization and "As if" negotiation.

I have been thinking about the applicability of visualization and "as if" social activism to mediation. Maybe mediators focus too much on having each party focus on themselves: on their own interests, and on trying to understand and appreciate the other party's interests.

Maybe mediators should focus more on the settlement itself: by having each party visualize the settlement, and negotiate "as if" there was no choice other than to settle.

At some point in the mediation, maybe I will call a timeout and have each party visualize the settlement. No doubt they will say, "What settlement, we are not even close!" But I will say, visualize it and tell each other: What it feels like. What it has accomplished. What it permits the parties to do going forward. Maybe even what it looks like in substance, but if I go this far, I would want to hear more about what the substantive terms do for each party, how they make each party get something important, rather than what the precise terms are.

Also at some point in the mediation, maybe I will call a timeout and have each party agree to negotiate in a way "as if" there is no BATNA, no alternative to reaching a settlement. Michael Pollan discusses "as if" behavior in a recent article about what each person can do to help deal with global warming. Essentially each person must suspend disbelief that social change can be accomplished one person at a time. Each person must act as if each person's personal attempt at living a more green life will actually retard global climate change. If everyone acts "as if," then one by one our green decisions accumulate, and we all will accomplish social change. If everyone says that no one person can affect global warming, so why bother, then social change will not happen.

I think everyone has had the experience of being in a situation where you decided to act in a way where you would not accept an available alternative. Maybe something as simple as you are running a race and you are getting tired, and you know you can drop out, but the thought triggers a wave of shame and you say to yourself, "no, I am not going there."

If you want social change, act as if what you do will achieve social change, as if what you do matters. If you want a settlement, negotiate as if there is no alternative, as if the settlement matters.

If I pursue this stupid mediator trick, then my main job becomes making sure each party is negotiating "as if."

1 comment:

Stephanie West Allen said...

Hi, Christian. I think "as if" is a great technique. Thought you might like to read a bit about the neuroscience of "acting as if" here: