New on the mediation web: return of the king, launch of Werner Institute ADRhub

New on the ADR webAt its annual spring meeting, the American Bar Association Section on Dispute Resolution honored premier ADR and negotiation web site Mediate.com as the institutional recipient of the prestigious Lawyer as Problem Solver Award. In a moving acceptance speech, tinged with equal parts humor, reminiscence, and gratitude to supporters, Mediate.com co-founder Jim Melamed described the changes to the mediation field he has witnessed since the launch of this site and how technology has transformed the quality and degree of conversation among professionals, scholars, and consumers of ADR. (You can listen to Jim’s classy speech on Youtube.)

Joining (or in one case, rejoining) this vibrant conversation are two contributors I am pleased to welcome.

Internationally respected New Zealand commercial mediator, barrister, educator, and writer Geoff Sharp, one of the very best of the ADR bloggers, has returned to the blogosphere with a brand-new web site. Geoff’s Mediation Cubed Blog offers the mediator, educator and student the best thinking that scholarship and praxis can offer. This membership-only site is created exclusively for the mediation community to ensure that those who join are serious participants; registration is required. (This sounds daunting, but don’t let that deter you. I’m sure if you ask Geoff nicely he’ll allow you to sign up.)

ADR practitioner Jeff Thompson, a co-host of ADR podcast series Cafe Mediate, and author of the blog Enjoy Mediation, is the creative genius behind ADRhub, the Werner Institute’s ADR portal. Open to “academics, practitioners, scholars, professionals, students, ‘newbies’ and those interested in getting involved in the field“, ADRhub offers its members web events, news, online chat, job and event postings, and much, much more. Joining is free, in the best spirit of ADR. This promises to be a great place to hang out, and I look forward to meeting up with you there.

Photo credit: Jakub Krechowicz.

Play it smart and safe: web-savvy tips for the ADR professional

The following is adapted from an article I wrote for the Spring 2010 issue of the newsletter of the Association for Conflict Resolution’s New England Chapter. My colleague Tammy Lenski and I were invited to offer our best advice to ADR professionals seeking to make the most of the web. Tammy’s article, “Top 10 tips for using social media in your ADR marketing plan“, which she has republished on her site Making Mediation Your Day Job, focuses on smart social media strategies. Mine looks at ways to play it safe in your online life to protect yourself in the real world. Thanks to abundantly patient and discerning editor Louisa Williams for all her hard work in bringing these articles to press.

* * * * *

“Have hot sex longer.” That’s not advice from Dr. Ruth Westheimer. That was the surprising private message (edited so as not to offend readers) I received from a contact on Twitter – a respected professional with a reputation to safeguard. Luckily for him, I did not take offense. I immediately realized what had happened: a digital vandal had hijacked his Twitter account.

As so many of us increasingly rely on the internet to communicate, transact business, and network, these kinds of incidents become more common. Fortunately, there are ways to be both safe and smart. Two categories of must-have protection can secure your online life: protecting your data and protecting yourself.

Data protection

Data protection involves two steps: securing your files and your online accounts from unauthorized access; and backing up your hard drive and your online accounts in the event of software or hardware failure.

Following the hack of a popular web site, a data security firm analyzed user passwords to generate a list of the worst offenders, proving that far too many people use “123456” or “iloveyou” as easy-to-guess passwords.  According to the firm’s CEO, “with only minimal effort, a hacker can gain access to one new account every second – or 1,000 accounts every 17 minutes.” Those are sobering figures.

To protect your (and your clients’) data, replace easy-to-guess passwords with unguessable ones. Online security experts recommend using combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters (such as ^, %, or *) to make it tougher for wrongdoers to access your accounts. Changing passwords regularly is also good practice – and mandatory if you believe an account has been compromised. It goes without saying that if you write down your password, keep that paper separate from your desktop or laptop, concealed from prying eyes. Also avoid using the same password and user name across numerous sites; hackers count on you to make that mistake. The challenge, of course, with having strong, multiple passwords is remembering them; you can find some great tips on the site WikiHow on “How to Create a Password You Can Remember“).

When it comes to digital data, Murphy’s Law applies: if something can go wrong, it will. Your hard drive crashes, a thief nicks your laptop, or a hacker targets your site. When it comes to readiness for such events, prepare as if disaster will strike. Make a list of all the online accounts and web sites you have. Then go through that list and ensure you have back-ups of everything you care about. Have a plan in place and everything you need organized and at hand so that if the unthinkable happens, you’ll be ready. Last summer, this is what kept my own brush with hackers who vandalized my blog from being an unmitigated disaster.

Back-ups aren’t just for web sites, by the way. You can back up your contacts and profile information on LinkedIn, or information on social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook. Of course, in addition to your online accounts, remember to back up your hard drive. The most cautious among us rely on external hard drives and flash drives, as well as online backup service, so that if anything happens to your physical equipment, your data remains safe on the web. Choices for online backups include Mozy, Syncplicity, and Carbonite, which work for both PCs and Macs.

Protecting yourself

The authors of negotiation classic Getting to Yes warn negotiators to “be trustworthy, not trusting.” The same wisdom applies to negotiating the web and your online relationships.

To protect a hacker from hijacking your online accounts, be careful where you click. Phishing scams abound on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. The misuse of URL shorteners such as bit.ly or tinyurl.com contribute to the problem. URL shorteners are great for reducing long URLs for quick copying into email messages or posting in online forums. For example, for a link to an article by Leonard Riskin on his famous Grid, I turned the unwieldy

http://www.gevim.co.il/image/users/89301/ftp/my_files/pdf/Grid.pdf

into

http://tinyurl.com/riskingrid.

But URL shorteners can also be misused by hackers to conceal the true identity of malicious sites. In the case of the poor professional whose Twitter account was hijacked, he made the mistake of clicking on a link he assumed was safe, allowing a scoundrel to gain control of his account and send offensive messages under his name. Before you click, use tools such as LongURL to reveal the actual site and protect your reputation. As one expert on online security warns, “Never assume a link is safe just because a friend sent it to you”.

Protecting your personal property and physical safety is important, too. People routinely announce their locations or vacation plans to their followers on sites like Facebook and Twitter, unwittingly signaling to web-savvy thieves their absence from home. One site, the pointedly named PleaseRobMe.com, monitors Twitter for such updates. Take care as well using sites such as TripIt, which allow you to share your travel itinerary with your contacts on networking sites – which is fine if you trust and know every one of them well (although read on, please, before you say yes).

The internet enables us to network easily. It’s human nature to be flattered when someone invites us to join their network or be “friends.” But too many people promiscuously accept invitations to connect, as I learned first-hand. I recently inventoried my own list of contacts on a popular professional networking site, conducting some online detective work on the ones I didn’t know that well. To my dismay, I discovered people stripped of professional licenses and one convicted felon, proving the enduring truth in the old aphorism “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

The moral of the story: before accepting any invitation to connect, be sure you know whom you’re dealing with. This is particularly true with the business networking site LinkedIn, which urges users to remember that what counts is “the quality of the connections and not … the quantity of connections.” Ask yourself, would the person inviting you to connect be someone you’d be willing to recommend to others? If not, then decline the connection. ADR folks tend to be nice people committed to getting to yes, but don’t let your good nature get you into trouble. Just say no.

The best we can do is to welcome the opportunity to connect with others but remember to conduct our due diligence. As a former US president purportedly once said, “Trust, but verify.”

Mediator certification focus of latest episode of Cafe Mediate podcast series

Cafe Mediate podcast series continuesEach month at Cafe Mediate a group of ADR professionals gathers for lively, unscripted discussion of topics relevant to the business, practice, and future of the field.

In the latest episode of this monthly podcast series professional mediator  and author Tammy Lenski, international business mediator Amanda Bucklow, commercial mediator Victoria Pynchon, and I begin a two-part discussion of a subject of particular interest to mediators: certification and credentialing for mediators in private practice. Joining us is pioneer and field leader Susanne Terry, an internationally respected dispute resolution practitioner, scholar, and ACR board member who is directly involved in shaping a national conversation on the issue of certification.

You can download or listen to Mediator Certification: An Idea Whose Time Has Come? (Part 1).

To enjoy this and earlier episodes of Cafe Mediate, you can:

Next month drop by Cafe Mediate (motto: “where conversation, not caffeine, is the stimulant”)  for Part 2 of the discussion on certification for mediators. In the meantime, Tammy suggests further reading on certification. I second her motion:

Fallacious Argument of the Month: appeal to the bandwagon

Marching in step with the bandwagonIn my continuing battle for the improvement of public discourse, each month I discuss an example of a Fallacious Argument. This month’s Fallacious Argument is perhaps one of the most frequently invoked: the appeal to the bandwagon, which leans the mighty weight of the many against the intractable few.

Anyone who has ever been a child can no doubt recall futile negotiations with one’s parents to gain new privileges or permission. The negotiations typically go something like this:

Kid: “But all the other kids get to [forbidden activity]!”  (This seems perfectly reasonable to kids. After all, if the other kids get to, then it’s only fair that you get to as well.)

Parent: “So let me get this straight. If your friends decided to [a different forbidden activity likely to shame the family, violate the laws of physics, and result in personal injury or death], then you’d just go along with them? Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make something right.”

This scene gets played out, generation after generation, between parents and children all over the world. Parents everywhere are familiar with the bandwagon appeal – an argument in which the speaker seeks to persuade the hearer of the wisdom of a course of action because of the popular support it enjoys.

Although this argument has little power to sway parents (at least in my family), it seems to work on everyone else. Purveyors of consumer goods use this propaganda device to hawk toothpaste (“9 out of 10 dentists”) and motor vehicles (“America’s best-selling truck”). Meanwhile purveyors of political ideas hitch their plans to the bandwagon to win backing for their cause, whether a public law school for Massachusetts (“one of only 5 states without a public law school“) or support for or against health care reform (“every developed nation in the world has universal health care” from one side, “a majority of Americans oppose health care reform” from the other). The bandwagon ensures that political ideas, regardless of how worthy (or worthless) they may be, will be judged by their emotional appeal and not on the merits.

According to Robert Gula, author of the logic lover’s bible, Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows, the bandwagon takes advantage of the human imperative to follow the herd:

…it suggests that the judgment of the masses is sound: If so many people are doing it, then it must be right. Second, and more important, the bandwagon is an emotional appeal to our need for belonging. We don’t want to be left out.

Our parents, it seems, were right after all: just because an idea enjoys popular support doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good one. It might well be, of course. But let’s not allow ourselves to be overly impressed by the size of the crowd.

This concludes this month’s installment of my Fallacious Argument series. Allow me to express my sincere hope that you’ve been enjoying it; after all, 9 out of 10 readers do.

Digging in the archives: Mediation Channel Classics for March

Digging in the Mediation Channel archivesWith hundreds of posts in the Mediation Channel archives, each month I highlight those from prior years that drew in readers, produced discussion here or elsewhere on the web, or that simply happen to be my favorites.

Here’s my selection for March:

March 2009

March 2008

March 2007

March 2006

March 2005

The side I see: challenging assumptions, changing minds

It’s funny how the books we read when we are young stick with us. One such book for me was Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, a science fiction story about a man, raised by Martians, who returns one day to Earth, and the clash of cultures and values that inevitably results.

What I recall most vividly were the Fair Witnesses, the licensed professionals that Heinlein invents for this book. Fair Witnesses receive extensive training in careful, impartial observation and assiduously avoid assumptions when called upon to provide their services.  In one memorable scene, one Fair Witness, Anne, demonstrates her unique skill to two other characters, Jubal and Jill. Jubal asks Anne, “That house on the hilltop — can you see what color they’ve painted it?” Anne  replies, “It’s white on this side.”

Jubal explains to Jill,

You see? It doesn’t occur to Anne to infer that the other side is white, too.  All the King’s horses couldn’t force her to commit herself…unless she went there and looked–and even then she wouldn’t assume that it stayed white after she left.

I never forgot what the Fair Witness said: “It’s white on this side.”  It’s unlikely that any of us is that precise or discerning when called upon to recount an incident or describe an object or problem.

Imagine the house on the hilltop. Now picture two people, each of whom stands facing a different side of the house, one person at the back, one at the front. Based on what they are able to see, front or back, each draws conclusions about the entire house – what color it is painted, what materials it is constructed of, whether repairs may be needed. But until each has left his original position and walked around the house, inspecting it from all sides, those conclusions remain suspect, based on incomplete data.

In teaching negotiation and mediation, I often discuss the scene from Heinlein’s book after administering an uncritical inference test known as “The Cash Register Exercise“. This exercise highlights the very human tendency to quickly fill in the gaps when information is missing and to draw assumptions about what we don’t know from what we do. (Click here to download the exercise and answer key in PDF.)

For those negotiating, information is indeed power. Examining issues from different angles can protect negotiators from bad deals or from missed opportunities.

For new mediators, the exercise and Heinlein’s story serve as a salutary reminder that our own assumptions can limit our effectiveness at the table. Cognitive error may blinker us, hampering us from helping those locked in conflict arrive at a more expansive understanding of the problems they face. The other lesson, too, is an obvious one: mediation offers fresh ways of looking at issues – from all sides, not just one, inviting parties to step away from their side of the house to see it in its entirety.

Seeing the house from all sides allows us to test or transcend our assumptions. Stepping away to gain a different view doesn’t mean giving up what you believe or need. With accurate and complete information, our conclusions can rest on surer ground. And it might even change our minds along with our vantage points.

Top ADR site Mediate.com adds resources on gender

Premier dispute resolution web site Mediate.com has demonstrated its support for raising awareness of gender bias in ADR. Showing leadership and its commitment to social justice issues, Mediate.com has created a new section on gender, as well as a page on gender bias links.  This is just one more reason among many to visit Mediate.com, the top web site for news, information, and resources on ADR and negotiation.

Other features that make this site outstanding include:

To my good friends at Mediate.com, thank you as always for your support.

New blog, Eye on Conflict, keeps dispute resolution in its sights

Eye on Conflict is the latest addition to ADRblogs.com, the world catalog of blogs about dispute resolution, negotiation, and collaborative approaches to problem solving.

Published by L.A.-based commercial mediator and “Talk It Over Radio” host Lee Jay Berman, Eye on Conflict explores ADR and negotiation, using today’s headlines as a rich source of inspiration, from the recent tragedy at Sea World to the Pink Floyd/IMI dispute. Berman’s most recent post (as of today) pays touching tribute to mediation pioneer Richard Millen who recently passed away.

I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Lee Jay Berman and Eye on Conflict to the ADR blogosphere.

Women bloggers proclaim National Women's History Month

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Settle It Now Negotiation Blog, Mediation Channel, and the Blogs of all other women who are making and recording the history of the United States of America every working day, that March is designated as Women’s History Month. Every woman blogger and every male blogger whose life has been enriched by the presence of women in it is requested to issue a proclamation each March, calling upon their fellow bloggers to observe March as Women’s History Month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

This resolution, calling upon “the people of the United States to observe March as Women’s History Month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities” was passed by Congress in 1987 and successive years since then.  For more information about the origin of National Women’s History Month, or the activities of the National Women’s History Project, visit the National Women’s History Project.

This blog is celebrating National Women’s History Month by drawing attention to a series of posts on implicit gender bias in ADR.  The first two posts are written by me, and the subsequent five by my colleague, commercial mediator and author Victoria Pynchon:

Victoria Pynchon’s series on gender and bias:

Doing it backwards and in heels: a prescription for remedying implicit bias in ADR

Yesterday I pointed readers to an electrifying series by commercial mediator and arbitrator, Victoria Pynchon, which rips the lid off the ADR profession’s secret and unacknowledged shame: the absence of women and minorities from the prestigious ADR panels:

Not content to merely name the problem, my colleague today proposes solutions in “Combatting Implicit Gender Bias in ADR“.

Turning to Americans for American Values for ideas, Pynchon identifies the cure, a detailed action plan, which you can read in her post.  It’s going to take strong medicine to cure what ails us.

It takes guts to do what she Pynchon has done. She warns readers “that the topic of implicit gender bias is ‘toxic’”,with the potential of poisoning her market against her and costing her opportunities. Her post stands as a challenge to other women – and men, too – in ADR to break the silence and speak out. In solidarity, I stand shoulder to shoulder with my colleague on the West Coast.  I issue a call to arms of my own:

It’s time for ADR membership organizations to make the vanquishing of implicit bias a local and national priority – and actually do something about it. The ABA Section on Dispute Resolution has a diversity committee, but it has apparently posted nothing new on its site in two years. This is also a committee limited in size with membership by appointment only. How about opening it up to those of us out here hungry for change and ready to act? The Association for Conflict Resolution has a diversity committee as well – what is it doing right now to actively battle implicit bias and improve access to business opportunities for all ADR professionals? What about the numerous regional and state associations for ADR professionals? NE-ACR? SCMA? TAM? This problem affects your membership – what will you do to make a difference? State bar associations with ADR committees, where are you on this? Exert your influence. And let the rest of know what needs to be done so we can roll up our sleeves and get to work.

There’s been time enough to talk. It’s time at last to do.