Mediation is a growth area within the law and business – It is a service which I am a strong believer in and I have completed a course on mediation with the Academy of Experts based in the United Kingdom.
It is my hope that a Dispute Resolution Practice can become a significant element of my work.
As a consequence, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to review the book, Improvisational Negotiation by Jeffrey Krivis.
Krivis is an established player in the field of mediation. He has an impressive cv in that he has served as president of the International Academy of Mediators and the Southern Californian Mediation Association.
Some 13 years ago (prior to many being aware of the idea of mediation), he received the Dispute Resolution Lawyer of the Year Award.
He has written a number of articles and guides on the subject which appear on his website at https://www.firstmediation.com/
This is not a book for those seeking an introduction to mediation albeit the stories are powerful and are an interesting read.
From my perspective, I think the book’s primary purpose is to give the experienced mediators(or at least those with understanding of what actually happens in the mediation) certain principles to apply as the book does not deal with how the mediation process works.
How does Krivis do that?
What he has done is to write a series of stories based on true events which all contain a series of message or strategies which can be applied.
The style of writing is clear, honest and open.
There is some structure in what is being written in the book which is useful as it enables the book to maintain a theme.
The stories in Part One are about rebuilding communication breakdowns and healing broken relationships.
The stories in Part Two focus more on financial negotiations.
The stories in Part Three offer some proven techniques which can help you get through some difficult negotiations.
As he writes in the forward what Krivis is trying to do is to help the mediator “jump into the centre of the conflict and bring it to a successful conclusion.”
Unsurprisingly there is a strong psychological element within the mediation process and this is reflected in the guidance given. For example, in the story “Step-By Step” Krivis writes about the negotiation process he writes “Although a monetary amount is attached to each move, it’s the symbolism of the amount – not necessarily the substantive amount – that drives the next move. The gap between the two parties’ position at any one point doesn’t really tell you anything about what’s really going on in the negotiations. You can learn more by looking at the nature of the concessions.”
From my experience of mediation there is often a great deal going on beneath the surface. Often the course of a mediation will take a completely different course from that which you will see on the legal papers.
Therefore when Krivis writes in the story “Gratitude is the Attitude” such advice as look for the clues in body language and perhaps more relevantly, “Listen for the abstract needs of the parties” it resonates with me. As he writes “What’s tangible and measurable is often not the driving force behind the negotiation. Identifying an intangible need, such as recognition and understanding will unlock the negotiation process.”
In my view the nature of being a mediator can involve being tough with the parties. Krivis is right when he writes “Move parties off firm positions by creating fear, uncertainty and doubt….This forces the parties to think about the dispute from the point of view of their adversary. To do this safely, you must remain firm but kind and attempt it only after you have built up a reservoir of trust”
He is right to provide you with tools to apply leverage with the parties.
This book which is a recommended read contains 30 stories which will all in different ways help one negotiate. As Krivis observes “In a world where relationships matter more than ever, mediation skills matter more than ever. Companies can locate anywhere. People can locate anywhere. Clients can stay with you or go with a competitor halfway around the globe. So whether you can manage employees or clients or both, it’s critical to learn the art of bringing harmony out of conflict”