Thursday, February 17, 2011

A is for Asshole: The Grownups’ ABCs of Conflict Resolution

One of the most prolific and interesting people writing and commenting on mediation is Victoria Pynchon, author of the Negotiation Law blog. She is “one of the two founders of She Negotiates Consulting and Training, whose name says it all. She writes a monthly column for ForbesWoman unsurprisingly called She Negotiates, and the Forbes On the Docket Legal Blog. Impressive, to say the least.

She has recently written a great book with the eye-catching title, “A is for Asshole: The Grownups’ ABCs of Conflict Resolution.” Described on Amazon as an “imaginative and candid introduction to conflict resolution…It’s a pleasure to read…free of the dead hand of write-like-a-lawyer prose.”

I can personally attest that the rest of the book is just as interesting as the title. D is for Drama Queen, I is for Idiot, M is for Mediator, Z is for Zen Master and so on. The book opens with a story about conflict over finding a parking space. (Yes, Ms. Pynchon is from Los Angeles.)

She defines conflict at the simplest level, as whenever “one person believes that his needs or desires cannot be satisfied at the same time as those of his fellows.”

Ms. Pynchon is a wonderful writer. I commend this book, her column and her blogs to your attention.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

David Brooks on the Splendor of Cities

I try to read all of David Brook’s columns in The New York Times. He is one of the few columnists who has interesting things to say. Brooks writes about ideas and research and the impact of new research and ideas on society and politics. In my opinion most columnists, on the right and the left, are predictable, boring and simply restate their ideology in light of the issue of the day.

Brooks is different; often fresh and interesting.

A good example is his column in the February 7, 2011 New York Times. The column starts off about Rahm Emanuel running for Mayor of Chicago and why local government politics are more interesting and concrete. Brooks then discusses why cities are incubators of innovation and creativity.

Brooks also writes about the difference between in-person communication and electronic communication, saying that cities have become more, not less, important in this age of information, citing to and praising a “terrific new book” Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser.

According to Glaeser, cities have flourished “because humans communicate best when they are physically brought together.” I agree. But more important than either Brooks’, Glaeser’s or my beliefs, Brooks points out research to back up the point.

Two University of Michigan researchers brought groups of people together face to face and asked them to play a difficult cooperation game. Then they organized other groups and had them communicate electronically. The face-to-face groups thrived. The electronic groups fractured and struggled.

My guess is that many readers will recognize that electronic communications (e.g. email) splits groups faster than it brings them together. I pay close attention to how I structure discussions in my mediation practice – I use email a lot, not so much in discussions, but rather to communicate information – meeting dates, drafts of items, etc.

I don’t often try to substantively engage people in email or online debates. Others do; I have certainly facilitated my share of conference calls, webinars and even computer assisted video (e.g. Skype) meetings. But I prefer actual meetings to resolve difficult disputes.

Ideas – the grist of our mediation mill – spread and take root more easily person-to-person. Cities, according to Brooks, “magnify people’s strengths … because ideas spread more easily in dense environments.” I agree.