Deepak Chopra, author and spiritual advisor, is also a mediator—who knew!?
He has been called in to help with quarrels between national leaders and recently gave an interview to the New York Times laying out nine steps to help resolve disagreements. Love it!
Here are his steps and my take on using them in legal mediations:
Choose Whether You Want To Engage
As a lawyer, do you want to mediate the case? If not now, is there a better time? A few golden moments to mediate exist in every case: Pre-suit, because legal expenses will be low; at the close of discovery, because the facts are now known to the parties; after the court rules on any dispositive motions; and on eve of trial.
If You Engage, Listen First
Take advantage of what you can learn about the other side. You know your side of the case; be open to what you hear.
Learn About The Other Side’s Values
Values are much deeper than facts. A great example of this is to examine the business of your opponent. A health care provider cares very much about the quality of care. A debt collection firm cares very much about the dollars in the dispute. Know what motivates the other side.
Try Awareness And Pause
Our ego’s natural reaction when challenged is “fight, flight or freeze,” and to resolve a dispute we need to calm that reaction down. You may use insight, intuition, inspiration, creativity, vision, higher purpose or authenticity to calm down the ego. In mediation, I will purposely slow down, perhaps acknowledge the challenge to ego, and really focus on the party to ensure they have moved through the fight-flight-freeze automatic reaction.
Find The Creative Solution
Do not engage in black and white thinking. Creative solutions are out there — push everyone to find them.
Dealing With Confrontation
When confronted, take a deep breath, smile and then make a choice. You will be challenged in a mediation and you have the power to decide how to respond. You can be insulted; you can walk away; or perhaps the best response, you can acknowledge the attack and choose to move on to action to solve the problem.
Do Not Try To Prove Someone Wrong
This results in anger, upset parties or feelings of injustice. In mediation, we have issues where we have to agree to disagree. When you disagree, acknowledge it respectfully, observe, ask and listen. What need is not being met? How can I help you fulfill that need?
Be Prepared To Forgive
This is the key to moving beyond the disagreement for YOURSELF — holding on to your feeling of injustice keeps you living in the past. Truly, I have settled cases in which a formal apology, and acceptance of that apology, were keys to settlement.
Make A (Gentle) Joke
Humor in a mediation can help a tense conversation, but avoid humor that is cruel or demeaning. I have started using funny memes through Share Screen in my Zoom mediations to cut the tension. Realize your mediator may be bringing in humor to break down the walls, relax and creatively work towards a solution.
These tips are all perfect to remember for any mediation. For more information on Deepak Chopra as a mediator, check out his writeup in the New York Times: How to Have a Disagreement Like an Adult, According to Deepak Chopra.