Category Archives: Global and Cultural Awareness

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:

What color is a banana? Perception, bias, and identity

Slipping on the banana peel of implicit biasA quote attributed to author Anais Nin declares, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”

The truth of these words is apparent in the following anecdotes, which I invite you to consider.

Anecdote 1

When my son was tested for a coveted spot in a private prekindergarten, he was asked, ”What color is a banana?”

”White,” he answered.

”A banana isn’t white!” he was told.

Fortunately, my son was not intimidated. He replied: ”Yes, it is. The peel is yellow, but the banana is white.”

He was accepted.

Anecdote 2:

When people say there’s no real difference between the way men and women in public life approach the issues, I am reminded of a pop quiz my seventh-grade biology teacher thought up, which I flunked. The quiz was simple: match the parts of the human body to the parts of a car. So the lungs were matched with the carburetor, the spark plugs were the nervous system, joints were like shock absorbers – or something. I am sure I still have it wrong.

The point is that almost all of the 13-year-old boys in the class aced the test and the girls – even ones who knew the functions of the human body cold – failed. Most of us had never looked under the hood of a car. We had a different reference for understanding the material, which the teacher (male, of course) never considered.

The first anecdote, originally part of a letter to the editor of the New York Times, appeared in “What is this question about?”, a post by Arnold Zwicky on the popular linguistics blog, Language Log. Zwicky was discussing the role that meaning plays in developing educational tests for children.

Boston Globe editorial page editor Renee Loth recounted the second one in an opinion piece on gender and politics.

The anecdotes may differ as to the events that each describes but the moral is the same.

In the first anecdote, the adult posing the question assumed that the child understood that “banana” signified “unpeeled and ripe but not overly ripe banana”. It was the question that was wrong, not the child’s answer. The question also rested upon a cultural assumption: that children taking such tests are familiar with yellow bananas. Children from other cultures may be familiar with bananas of a different hue. As Zwicky points out,

Note that there are red and purple varieties of banana, and that naturally ripened yellow bananas go from green to greenish yellow to brownish yellow (not a “good” yellow) as they ripen. The bananas of commerce in the U.S. are almost all yellow varieties; in fact, they are almost all artificially ripened Cavendish bananas. The ripening process produces vivid yellow bananas. So unless a child taking the test is accustomed to eating red bananas — say, in a Central American neighborhood — the child will give the expected answer, “yellow”.

In the second anecdote, the test-giver assumed that every student in his biology class shared his frame of reference and that the analogy of the car would be readily accessible to all. In that instance, gender played a significant role in the test scores that resulted. But in other situations, the car analogy would be just as incomprehensible regardless of gender but as a matter of economics and class – for example, among students whose parents don’t own a car or in schools located in neighborhoods where public transit not personal motor vehicles is the primary mode of transportation.

Each of these anecdotes reminds us that who we are shapes how we see the world. We are susceptible to influences of which we are often unaware, affecting our perception and our ability to judge. Until they are pointed out to us, our biases remain hidden from us, like the fruit concealed within the peel.

Just be careful not to slip on them.

Mapping the borders of conflict: How Google depicts disputed regions

mapping disputed territoryMaps enable us to picture the world we inhabit. They depict physical spaces, marking the borders between nations or nature’s own boundaries between plain and mountain, water and shoreline. To those who can read them, they tell stories of crops, climate, culture, and economies. Maps also speak of war and violence, of divided nations, of claims for territory,  and of peoples locked in conflict, where even the names that places bear are in dispute.

In depicting geopolitically sensitive locations, what can the mapmakers do in the face of competing claims of naming rights or ownership? Google’s Public Policy Blog discusses the ethics of map-making, describing the hierarchy of values that informs Google’s practice in creating maps. Google draws on its own mission, while seeking guidance from authoritative references and honoring local expectations, in creating its map products, available in 41 languages and via 32 region-specific domains:

In all cases we work to represent the “ground truth” as accurately and neutrally as we can, in consistency with Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. We work to provide as much discoverable information as possible so that users can make their own judgments about geopolitical disputes. That can mean providing multiple claim lines (e.g. the Syrian and Israeli lines in the Golan Heights), multiple names (e.g. two names separated by a slash: “Londonderry / Derry“), or clickable political annotations with short descriptions of the issues (e.g. the annotation for “Arunachal Pradesh,” currently in Google Earth only; see blog post about disputed seas).

Sometimes, as Google acknowledges, these principles may conflict:

For example, is localizing a place name inconsistent with Google’s mission? What happens when an authoritative references does not seem to represent the truth on the ground? What about when local user expectations don’t match international convention, or when local laws prohibit acknowledging regional conflicts?

Like the borders themselves, the answers are not always easy to define.

(With a hat tip to The Map Room.)

A look in the mirror: seeking self-awareness

Conflict resolution work can be demanding, asking much of those who practice it. Among other qualities, practitioners must ideally bring to the table an openness and curiosity to learn more about how others see and experience the world; respect and compassion; the humility to acknowledge an error and express regret for an unintended outcome; and the willingness to remain alert for their own cognitive errors and biases.

These attributes flow from the capacity for self-awareness — a quality that requires eternal vigilance and constant practice. (I cheerfully admit that I’m a slow but persistent learner myself, hopeful nonetheless that there’s truth in the adage “practice makes perfect”.)

Fortunately the internet, with its almost infinite bounty of resources, offers plenty of opportunity for self-reflective exercise, with online tools, ongoing research studies, and tests to help new and experienced dispute resolvers gain greater self-awareness. Here’s a partial list:

If you’re interested in finding additional ways to both contribute to scientific advancement and continue the voyage of self-discovery, a whole list of current psychological research projects can be found on the web site for the Hanover College Psychology Department.


Michael McIlwrath, Senior Counsel, Litigation for GE Infrastructure – Oil & Gas, and the host of the outstanding ADR podcast series, International Dispute Negotiation, kindly suggested the addition of two other resources for readers:

Thanks so much, Mike!

Remembering Morad: thoughts on Iran and US relations

Iran and US relationsHour by hour, print, TV, and web sources bring news, narratives and dramatic images from Iran of protests and violence as Iranians take to the streets to voice opposition to the results of the recent presidential election.

The news from Tehran has brought back memories from a summer long ago. In 1976, a 17-year-old just a year away from high school graduation, I spent the summer studying Russian language in the Norwich University Summer Russian School, a full-immersion Russian language and cultural program. Norwich, a private military college in Northfield, Vermont, was also the site of another kind of cultural exchange program. Enrolled at Norwich at that time were about 30 members of the Iranian Imperial Navy, young men given the opportunity to study in the U.S.

One of them, Morad, became my friend. When I wasn’t studying myself or involved in Russian School activities, I would hang out with him, taking long walks or gamely learning tennis under his patient tutelage. He was 20 years old, far from home for the first time in his life. He missed his family, particularly his sister, and his friends in Tehran, and would describe his life with them back home. We constituted our own small cultural exchange program as we asked each other questions and eagerly swapped stories about life in our respective countries.  He spoke English flawlessly, enjoyed language study, and appreciated my own curiosity about foreign languages. He was pleased when I asked him to teach me some words of Persian, and he happily did so, pointing out the similarities between his native language and mine, both Indo-European tongues.

As I recall, he phoned me once or twice after I’d returned home when my program ended, and then we soon lost touch as kids do. In 1979 the Shah fell from power, toppled in the Islamic Revolution, and months later the U.S. severed all diplomatic ties. At that time I thought of him and the other young men from the Iranian Navy and feared for their fate on their return.

The news from Iran resurrects these half-forgotten memories of a long-ago friendship. I wonder where Morad is now and whether he is safe. I think how fortunate I was to meet him, to learn something of his country and language with their ancient cultural roots, and to spend a little time with him — two kids, just talking and hanging out.

If only diplomacy were so simple. If only our shared humanity and mutual curiosity were enough.

Site tracking mediation, dispute resolution blogs world-wide,, turns three

ADRblogs.comThe World Directory of ADR Blogs, at, turned three on June 5. grew out of a project I began in 2005 to track and catalog dispute resolution blogs world-wide. Today it tracks over 200 blogs from 30 countries around the globe.

Recent additions to include

  • The Divorce Collaborative, covering divorce and family mediation and collaborative law with a Massachusetts perspective, by Stephen McDonough and Laurie Martucci
  • MediAsian, which explores mediation and dispute resolution in Asia, especially, but not exclusively, South East Asia, published by Ian Macduff, a relocated New Zealander – born in Malaysia, now living and working in Singapore.
  • Kluwer Arbitration Blog, discussing news and issues in international commercial arbitration.

No passport is needed to explore the world of dispute resolution and negotiation blogging. Just go visit  Submissions, of course, are always welcome.

Incidentally, is itself a blog, so to stay on top of new blogs as they join the conversation about all things related to conflict resolution, ADR, negotiation, restorative justice, and people-centered innovations in law and justice, subscribe to its RSS feed or sign up for notifications by email when new sites are added.

Negotiation teaching 2.0: new book rethinks current approaches, considers culture

negotiation training - the second generation“But we’ve always done it this way” all too often stifles fresh thinking or bars the way to needed change. That’s why now and again it doesn’t hurt to shake things up.

And shaking things up in the world of negotiation training and teaching is a new book, Rethinking Negotiation Teaching: Innovations for Context and Culture, edited by ADR movers and shakers Chris Honeyman, James Coben, and Giuseppe De Palo. Published by DRI Press, an imprint of the Dispute Resolution Institute at Hamline University School of Law, this book is available at and, best of all, as chapter-by-chapter PDF downloads at the Hamline web site.

In his introduction, Honeyman explains why it’s time to reconsider how negotiation is taught:

The completion of one generation offers a classic moment to take stock in full of any social innovation. By some measures, including market success across a variety of disciplines, the teaching of negotiation has been a great success story, and has been relatively consistent. The cohesiveness and attractiveness of the interest-based model across law, business, public policy, international relations, urban planning, and other fields have been remarkable. From a base of essentially zero courses in 1979, nearly every law or business school in the U.S. now has at least one course in negotiation, and many other countries are at various points on the same path. But that very success has combined with the inchoate nature of an interdisciplinary field to mask the inherent challenge created by the separate discoveries of many disciplines.

Over the last three decades those discoveries have been many. But by and large, they have not yet been incorporated in current teaching in any organized or consistent way. This book, together with the simultaneous publication of the Spring 2009 issue of Nego-tiation Journal, [Volume 25(2), with a special section guest-edited by the same editors], marks the first results of an interdisciplinary effort to make sense of these discoveries. We intend to revamp the teaching of our field across many settings and cultures.

I have already begun to dip into this superb collection of articles. Among those that grabbed my attention are these:

  • Moving Up: Positional Bargaining Revisited“, by Noam Ebner and Yael Efron. (“If we are going to teach our negotiators to succeed in real life, they contend, we are going to have to teach them to bargain. The authors offer a fully worked-out exercise to do just that.”)
  • Reflective Practice in the New Millennium“, by Michelle LeBaron and Mario Patera. (“LeBaron and Patera use their own cultures – Canadian and Austrian respectively – to examine the teaching assumptions of a group of top-flight teachers of negotiation. They discover a number of unstated theoretical assumptions, heavily influenced by Western thought in general and U.S. culture in particular, and demonstrate alternate assumptions which might better guide second generation training”)
  • Death of the Role-Play“, by Nadja Alexander and Michelle LeBaron. (“Alexander and LeBaron argue for a…determination toward removing role-plays from their enthroned position in negotiation training. Their substitution by younger, more vigorous teaching tools, they argue, would be good for the commonweal.”)

If you’re a negotiation trainer or teacher who’s ready to reboot their own thinking about how to teach negotiation, this is one book you’ll want to add to your shelf.

Gorilla in the room: the dividing lines in mediation practice

the gorilla at the mediation tableLast week’s annual spring meeting of the ABA Section on Dispute Resolution was endowed with an optimistic title: “ADR: Building Bridges to a Better Society”. Despite the noble sentiment it carried, something else – unwelcome and ignored – was present.

It was there in the plenary meetings and in the sessions I sat in on. No one explicitly named it, but plainly there it sat: the dividing line that separates one practitioner from the other. It was there when the famous scholar declared that cases involving legal issues are best mediated by attorneys only. It was there in one of the workshops when a facilitative mediator declared an evaluative intervention to be “wrong” and “bad mediation”.  It was there when a law professor dismissed lawyers – the original dispute resolvers – as flunkies and functionaries of a heartless judicial system. It’s the line that runs straight between attorneys who mediate and mediators who don’t practice law. It’s the line that separates facilitative mediators from mediators who evaluate. It’s the line between theory and praxis. We ADR professionals pay lip service to the values of community and collaborative effort; but the reality is otherwise for those willing to look more closely.

Other lines divide us, too, along the borders of gender and race. Women and people of color remain excluded from premier ADR panels. Women, who face gender-specific hurdles when it comes to negotiation anyway, confront particular disadvantages when it comes to the selection of mediators who assist at negotiations. Meanwhile, in the recent issue of the ABA Dispute Resolution magazine, dedicated to diversity, and which arrived the day before I departed for the spring meeting in New York, the concluding page of one article (a critical look at the lack of diversity in ADR’s upper echelons) faced an advertisement for a prestigious training organization with head shots of trainers who were white and male, with only a single woman represented among them. Yet still at the conference I heard an honored guest speaker look back on a moment in history when women faced barriers in ADR as if that time belonged solely to a long-ago past and not to the present.

It seems to me that unless we build and cross bridges within our own community, we can hardly expect to bridge gulfs outside it.

So, in the words of Joan Rivers, and mediators everywhere:

Can we talk?

Facilitative? Evaluative? The struggle to define the practice of mediation

Recently I criticized a call by Stephen Erickson of the Association for Conflict Resolution to establish a certification system for mediators.  (Lively discussion ensued, and people have continued to weigh in, so please feel free to contribute.)

According to Erickson, facilitative mediation is “good” and evaluative mediation, by inference, is bad, since evaluative mediation undermines self-determination, a core principle of mediation practice.

I responded by insisting that we owe it to our profession to bring greater nuance to our debate about mediation practice and credentialing, and not privilege one style of practice over another, reducing the debate to little more than facilitative-good/evaluative-bad.

But my main point was that we mediators need to do a much better job educating the public about what we do and how we practice so that parties can make informed decisions about choosing the approach – facilitative, transformative, evaluative, narrative, understanding-based, or a hybrid of approaches  — that best fits their dispute.

However, just because we strive to be inclusive in discussing these issues does not mean that we check our critical faculties at the door.  Evaluative mediation certainly has its uses, but it does have its shortcomings, too, as Len Riskin and Nancy Welsh described recently in their article, “Is that All There is? The ‘Problem’ in Court-Oriented Mediation“, since that approach allows the preferences of lawyers and insurance adjusters to dominate and  narrows discussion to legal and economic interests, while disregarding a whole range of other concerns — emotional, interpersonal, behavioral, community — that are no less integral.

Similarly, in “Moving Mediation Back Toward its Historic Roots – Suggested Changes” (in PDF), Joseph P. McMahon, Jr., criticizes the law-centered, “low functioning” approach to mediation that increasingly the legal community has come to accept, characterized by separation of parties with no opportunity for direct dialogue, a focus on monetizing the dispute, while legal issues take precedence over the parties’ own narratives and personal experience as the mediator-expert directs the parties toward settlement. McMahon advocates revolution, overthrowing one model in favor of another.  McMahon proposes a solution that restores face-to-face dialogue to its rightful place and returns power to the parties by engaging them in designing a process and an outcome that will best serve their needs.

Unfortunately, public perception remains otherwise.  In the popular imagination, the all-powerful mediator shuttles back and forth between separate rooms, controlling the flow of information between parties, and withholding food and drink (and maybe even bathroom breaks) while cajoling or pressuring the parties into accepting a deal.  This became amply clear to me over the weekend when Boston Globe Magazine profiled a local mediator.  Here’s the picture of mediation the Globe painted for its readers:

Here’s how mediation works: In a civil dispute, going to trial is always risky. Verdicts can either force defendants to pay astronomical amounts or leave plaintiffs without a penny. And so people often decide they’d rather settle — if they can agree on a price. The parties then choose a mediator — both sides must agree on the person — and the process begins, behind closed doors, with both sides stating their cases and demands. Then the mediator separates the two sides into different rooms and begins shuttling back and forth between them. If mediation fails, the parties can agree on another mediator, or the case goes to trial….In mediations, lawyers need someone with a sharp legal mind who’s not afraid to nudge, push, and just plain tell people when they’re wrong…

It’s all there – the shuttle diplomacy behind closed doors, the focus on price, and a process conducted within the long shadow of the courthouse as lawyers wheel and deal. Go read it for yourself. Plainly this tough-headed mediator has earned the title “closer”, brokering deals and producing settlements of the economic and legal issues (if not, perhaps, the less tangible ones). All well and good if that’s what lawyers and their clients truly want – after knowing all the options.  But how can we be sure that the public appreciates the difference, when even journalists – trained, professional observers – miss it?

And so I must also ask – can we really call this “mediation”?

Remembering wartime: photos of present-day city evoke tragic past

Remembering the wartime deadTo commemorate the 65th anniversary of the end of the Siege of Leningrad, photographer Sergei Larenkov overlays photos of present-day St. Petersburg with ghostly images of Leningrad during the blockade.

In these grim images, the dead trudge silently along city streets, while modern-day passersby rush along, blind to their presence. Eerie and deeply moving, these photos speak of the immediacy of the past, the suffering through war of the nameless dead.

For other posts discussing war and large-scale conflict, please see

Hat tip Boing Boing.