Friday, September 26, 2008

Day 2 of the ACR Conference

How often do you go to a professional presentation, the speakers go over time, and no one is concerned about it? No one is looking at their watches? Or PDAs?

I just attended such a presentation.

Here at my second day at the ACR National Conference, we just completed our keynote address by Lee Hamilton. A remarkable man who provided a remarkable address. He spoke eloquently, with passion, and with knowledge. The audience of conflict resolution professionals interrupted his speech with many rounds of applause and standing ovations. I walked away from the presentation thinking how fortunate our country is to have Mr. Hamilton serving it.

The keynote focused on lessons Mr. Hamilton learned in negotiating conflict—how to navigate partisan waters. He said there were ten points, and I believe him, but for some reason I only wrote down nine. So with due respect to Mr. Hamilton, here are the points he raised to help guide us in resolving conflicts:

Attitude. To build consensus, we have to have the attitude of working cooperatively and not confrontationally.

Commitment. We have to have a commitment to the task at hand. While we might appreciate the short term gain from tomorrow's headline, that pales in comparison to the benefits of working together for a long-term gain.

Focus on facts. Facts are tough things. But we have to focus on the facts at hand. Facts won't build consensus, but they will help narrow the gap.

Rule of collegiality. We must be nice to each other. Mr. Hamilton described that prior to the meeting of the 9/11 Commission, he had a social event at his home where the commissioners and staff got to know each other as human beings. We ought not view folks according to labels that we give them, but as human beings with backgrounds, experiences, needs, and interests. It's hard to get mad at someone you know well. According to Mr. Hamilton, the 9/11 Commission didn't have a vote that broke across party lines and he attributed that remarkable fact to the collegiality of the commission. Collegiality can mean hard work up front.

Communication. We must communicate with all of the players both in the talks and with those outside the talks. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

Focus on fairness and justice. There are differences between actual and perceived fairness/justice. If you walk out of a negotiation saying "I won this one," the settlement and the relationship won't last.

Compromise is necessary. Compromise can be painful, but necessary for a sustainable solution. Look at the founding of the United States—it was founded on compromise. We must work to understand the other side's view. The goal of defeating and humiliating the other side isn't acceptable. Look at today's political talk shows—they are like sumo wrestling—they may be entertaining to watch, but they are not governing.

Deal with core issues. Find out what's really important to a party and then ask how we can deal with it. Not dealing with core issues is like putting lipstick on a _______.
Agreement is not the end point. Often, the tough work is implementing the agreement.

It was a great speech that reminded us of the core issues facing those in the conflict resolution arena. It also emphasized the thought that we have an obligation to work on making agreements sustainable. During the mediation or negotiation session(s), we need to lay the groundwork for better, more cooperative relationships in the future.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Day 1 of the ACR National Conference

I just finished my first day at the Association for Conflict Resolution's national conference. Fortunately for me, the conference is being held in Austin, Texas, a pretty convenient drive from my home city of Dallas. After a non-eventful three hour drive down I-35 this morning, I checked into the conference hotel and ran into the president of the Dallas Chapter of ACR. We reviewed last night's chapter meeting, which was our annual civil judicial panel. Five local judges were on last night's panel discussing the world of mediation. It was a good night.

Today's pre-conference institute was outstanding. Dr. Larry Fong (from Canada, eh—he actually said "eh" several times) delivered an outstanding presentation about thinking and asking questions. One might think that thinking and asking questions ought to be fairly routine concepts for folks to grasp, particularly those in the conflict resolution field.

But most of us know folks who are not clear thinkers. And most of us know folks who may find it difficult to ask the right question at the right time without derailing communications. Dr. Fong engaged us in an exercise on developing hypotheses and questions for use in mediation. I came away from the presentation with a reminder of how critical it is for the mediator to be prepared and how important it is for the mediator to enter the mediation free of bias, that is, mediators ought to reflect upon their own role in the "system" of the mediation, and continually ask, "What am I doing to direct this process? What assumptions am I making about the participants?"

Mediators need to work prior to and during the mediation. Be on the look out for mediators who do not work hard.

I am looking forward to tomorrow. A number of fascinating seminars are being offered, and the day will start with a keynote address from Lee Hamilton, former congressman from Indiana and a member of the 9/11 Commission. Mr. Hamilton will speak on the future of American involvement in Iraq and the Middle East.