Conservation of Energy in Conversation

Seth Godin has some sage advice today….

Conservation of energy in conversation

If you escalate (cut off in traffic, angry at the gate agent, frustrated at your boss), you’ve just added (negative) energy to a conversation.

If you escalate (high-pitched enthusiasm, a hug, encouraging words), you’ve just added (positive) energy to a conversation.

Once the energy is added, it has to go somewhere. Often, the person you’re engaging with throws it right back, or even increases it. A talented, mature person might take your negative energy and de-escalate it, or even swallow it and permit the conversation to calm down or end. But don’t count on it.

Sure, you can ‘win’ a conversation by overwhelming your opponent with energy they can’t handle. But of course, they’re not your opponent and you don’t really win. Being aware of the energy you add or take from interactions is a sophisticated technique that radically changes the outcomes of the conversations that fill your day. Add the good stuff, absorb the bad stuff and focus on the outcomes, not the bravado.

The Value of a Good Mediator

A question (or sometimes criticism) I often hear about mediation is that the parties could just negotiate the solution out by themselves.  In some cases, this is true.  However, in the majority of cases which reach impasse, a mediator can be very helpful.

Let’s take the recent settlement in the National Hockey League (NHL) player lockout.  While I won’t present all the issue at stake, as background the owners locked out the players union when their last contract expired.  The sides had been talking for about 5 months with little progress and a lot of animosity built up.  The season was on the verge of complete cancellation.

Enter super sports mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh, deputy director for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS).  Beckenbaugh had already helped with resolving other recent sport related labor impasses (National Football League referees and National Basketball Association players).  Both sides in the NHL dispute credit Beckenbaugh’s persistence in leading them to a settlement.  Beckenbaugh essentially kept caucusing (shuttle diplomacy) with the sides until they were able to sit across from each other and finalize a deal (or at least the framework).

Here’s the most insightful quote about how the mediator helped the process from Winninpeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey (emphasis mine):

“Scot was great for a number of reasons. When it got to points where you didn’t know what to do next – or you had an idea but you didn’t know if it might upset the other side – you could go to him and talk to him about it and there was a way to work your ideas through a third party who was able to really help the process.

If you need assistance with a dispute, please contact me.

SEC Approves FINRA’s Proposal for All Public Arbitration Panels

I’ve written previously about the Financial Regulatory Authority (FINRA) proposals for allowing consumer complainants in arbitrations to use all public arbitration panels.  Non-public (or industry) panel members are those who work within the financial services industry.  Claims for over $100,000 are heard by a panel of three arbitrators.  Studies have shown a perception among complainants that the FINRA arbitration process, often mandated by brokerage agreements, is biased against consumers at least in part by the participation of industry panelists.  Thanks to an approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), claimants can now opt for a full public panel.

The recently enacted Dodd-Frank Act mandated that the SEC study the fairness of the “mandatory” securities industry arbitration process.  Whether this change will move the opinion of the SEC is open to debate.

New York Finally Embraces Irreconcilable Differences

New York state was the last state in the United States not to offer its citizens a no fault cause of action for divorce.  In August 2010, Governor David Paterson signed into law a bill which adds irreconcilable differences as a cause of action.  Property division, alimony, parenting and child support will need to be resolved before one party can swear under oath that the marriage has been irretrievably broken for 6 months.

FINRA to Propose Making All-public Arbitration Panels Permanent

Over two years ago, I wrote about a pilot program FINRA established to test all-public arbitration panels.  FINRA, the financial industry’s regulatory arm, will be submitting to the Securities and Exchange Commission a rule change proposal next month to make this option for claimants permanent.

The current pilot program involves 14 firms that agreed voluntarily to a set number of investor cases that did not involve individual brokers. The proposed rule would apply to all investor disputes against any firm and any individual broker. It would not apply to arbitration disputes involving only industry parties.

Roughly 60% of participants opted for the all-public panels.

Unattractive? Ugly? Maybe you should settle your lawsuit…

A recently published study by Cornell University indicated that “ugly” or unattractive people who are defendants in criminal trials are 22% more likely to be found guilty and are given longer sentences on average (22 months longer) than attractive people.  The scientists conducting the study tried to look at why this occurs.  Study co-author Justin Gunnell said:

Information processing can proceed through two pathways, a rational one and an experiential one. The former is characterized by an emphasis on analysis, fact and logical argument, whereas the latter is characterized by emotional and personal experience.  Our hypothesis was that if we identify the two groups, then the experiential people are more likely to focus on extralegal factors, which shouldn’t have any bearing on the legal process.  Attractiveness was the variable we used.

The study confirmed what it referred to as an “unattractive harshness effect.”  Jurors who processed information in more of an “experiential” manner were the ones who gave longer sentences and were more likely to convict.

Psychologists and sociologists have long known of the advantages which more attractive people have:  they are more likely to be hired and are generally paid more than less attractive people.  Hollywood is practically defined by attractiveness.

Most lawyers will say that the outcome of many trials hinges on how well the jurors or judge “like” the litigants, lawyers and witnesses who appear in front of them.  The trier of fact gives credibility or believes who they think is more attractive.

As I’ve indicated many times, settling a lawsuit or divorce matter is almost always in the best interests of all parties due to the unknowns of trial.  Part of the unknown results from human biases, some of which were detailed in this study.  We all like to think of a trial as “justice” but the reality sometimes is that it is a popularity or beauty contest.

If you would like to consider mediation to resolve your lawsuit or divorce, please feel free to contact me to discuss your situation further.

See a Real Mediation in Action

Most of my regular readers know I almost never have “war stories” of my mediations on this blog.  The primary reason why is confidentiality.  When my clients enter a mediation, they have an absolute expectation that what is said in the mediation room stays in the mediation room.  They do not expect their dirty laundry to be aired over the internet, even if carefully camouflaged by changing or omitting the names of the parties.  This level of confidentiality also makes it harder to market mediation.  How can I easily explain mediation by example?  There are plenty of law and court based television shows, but almost no mediation shows.

The Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO) does an excellent job of marketing mediation.  To this end, they have produced an excellent video on different types of mediation.  The mediations feature actual disputants who have waived their confidentiality privilege and touch on different areas of mediation (commercial/business cases, divorce, family, community and peer [students in school]).  The common misconception about mediation is everything sitting around a campfire singing Kumbaya and wondering why we can’t all get along.  While most mediations are civil, the reality, as you can see in the video, is that mediations often involve difficult discussions, difficult decisions and facing the issues directly with your adversary.  The results of the process are usually a better relationship — even if it means ending it on better terms.

The video is in .wmv format and can be viewed by clicking here.

Please contact me to find out is mediation is right to resolve your divorce, family and elder issues or commercial dispute.

An Apology or Slap in the Face?

I have written before about the power and effectiveness of a sincere apology to help resolve a dispute. Now from West Virginia, a completely different way to resolve a dispute: a slap.

Stewart Altmeyer, a prosecutor in Kanawha County, was suspended without pay for one month for agreeing to drop a larceny charge in exchange for allowing the alleged victim to slap the defendant.

In a mediation, I (or most of my colleagues) do not allow violence to be the outcome of any mediation.

Still no No-fault Divorce in NY

New York is the only state that does not have a no-fault cause of action for divorce.  A cause of action is what needs to be proven for your divorce action to prevail.  Most states have an irreconcilable differences cause of action, where one side does not have to prove the other side committed some unsavory act such as adultery or cruel treatment.

New York currently has four fault-based grounds for divorce:

  1. Adultery (which is still a criminal offense in the Empire State and hard to prove since you cannot testify against your spouse)
  2. Cruel and inhumane treatment (so as to affect the physical or mental health of the charging party such that it is not safe to remain in the marriage)
  3. Abandonment (one spouse intentionally leaves the other or refuses sexual relations for more than one year)
  4. Incarceration of one spouse for more than 3 years

In addition to these, the parties can agree in a written separation agreement to live apart for one year.  The agreement must contain the terms of the separation and ultimately the divorce.  This is the closest NY comes to no-fault.

Davis v. Davis, a recent NY case stated that mere social abandonment was not sufficient to prove constructive abandonment.  The wife in this case did not plead sexual abandonment.   The appellate court saw the pleadings as nothing more than a way to get around NY’s lack of a no-fault ground for divorce and that the courts would not usurp the legislature’s power to determine law for the people of New York.

Is Hiring a Detective to Spy on Your Spouse Harassment? In NY, no.

The case of Anonymous vs. Anonymous (so captioned by the court to protect the identities of all involved) recently asked and answered this question.  This case involved a wife who filed for divorce in November 2008.  The husband filed a counterclaim, alleging that the wife was having an affair.  In February 2009, the court entered a protective order requiring the husband to keep 1000 feet away from the wife’s residence and place of employment (excepting visitation and church attendance). In August 2009, the husband hired a private detective to spy on his wife.  The detective followed her to a hotel where the detective recorded proof that the wife was having an affair with their priest.  The matter became a little more public when the husband told another priest during a confessional of the affair, causing the church to launch an investigation (during which the DVD was given to church officials).  While the wife did not contest the affair, she asserted she was being harassed and that her husband had violated the protective order by hiring the detective.

Family Court Judge Debra J. Kiedaisch ruled that “under the circumstances, the hiring of the private investigator, in and of itself, was not an unlawful intrusion upon the rights of the wife secured by the order of protection.”  She said that the husband had the right to “gather evidence up to the date of trial in defense of the matrimonial action and in support of his own counterclaims.”

“If the husband had the wife followed and recorded … for the purpose of gathering embarrassing material to deliver to her employer with the intention to cause her to lose her employment,” that might rise to “conduct which alarms or seriously annoys another person, and serves no legitimate purpose” — second-degree harassment under New York law — Kiedaisch wrote.