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Nathan Witkin

Wait: The Magic of Mediation

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It’s a common mediation experience.  You are sitting with two disputants, keeping a conversation alive by avoiding inflammatory words and topics, when one or both of the parties come down from their initial positions to reach an agreement.  Though they are common enough, these moments are referred to as “mediation magic.”  The mediator does not know exactly what he or she did, but it worked.

This occurrence may be explained by an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology described here.  Researchers conducted a series of studies on the effects of priming either action or inaction on whether subjects changed their minds on an issue.

The outcome of these studies are that people are more likely to change their minds when primed to inaction (e.g., wait, slow, calm) and more likely to maintain their current opinions when primed to action (e.g., go, energy, motivation).  The researchers surmised that being prepared to act brings existing opinions to the forefront of the mind, while being prepared to wait allows people to better scrutinize their ideas.

This lesson is also reflected in wisdom on creative problem-solving.  This is why the first rule of brainstorming is to suspend judgment (action)–when participants move toward action, they hinder their ability to think in new and different ways.

How can these lessons be used by mediators?  First, they indicate that you should not motivate participants to act.  Asking the parties, “What are the two of you going to do about this?” will draw out their existing positions.  Meanwhile, encouraging the parties to be calm, wait, listen, and take a break if necessary, will give them the breathing room to reconsider their thinking.  Though action is necessary for the mediation to be productive, disputants are often already motivated to not be sitting across the table from an adversary, and resolution is one option for satiating the natural tendency toward conflict-avoidance.

Thus, a winning mediation strategy involves keeping the participants present in the conflict while encouraging them to be patient and wait.

Announcing the Topics of the 2017 OMA Conference

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On May 19, 2017, the Ohio Mediation Association will hold its first multi-session Annual Conference.  Different speakers in the morning and afternoon will allow for multiple perspectives, more information, and a better experience for the audience.  Our morning presenter is Dr. Tanya Menon, a notable researcher on the psychology of negotiation, and our afternoon presenter is Jerry Weiss, a mediator who is an experienced practitioner and lecturer.

Dr. Tanya Menon

Dr. Menon’s presentation is entitled “Using Questions to Encourage Collaboration.”

Because well-crafted questions are a key tool for facilitative mediation, Dr. Menon will provide exercises and analysis on the many uses of questions in negotiations.

First, questions can exert influence without exerting power.  Dr. Menon will begin her presentation with a multimedia illustration on effective questioning that includes best uses of open-ended vs. close-ended questions and how to use questions to empower opponents in positive directions.  She will also discuss psychological principles of persuasion, choice as a double-edged sword, and the power of positive and negative language.

Next, questions can hurt or hinder our ability to bridge perspectives in order to solve problems.  In this segment, participants will engage in an interactive communications exercise that will demonstrate the conversational traps that arise from perspectives that are subtly, yet importantly, different.  This exercise will be a challenge for communications professionals, and it will also remind participants of the struggles that disputants experience at the mediation table.  Dr. Menon will again discuss pertinent theories in the psychology of conflict resolution.

Finally, Dr. Menon will present new ideas on using questions to generate creativity.  Concepts beyond standard brainstorming will be presented and explored.  These exercises will allow disputants to consider their problems in more flexible angles and allow mediators to guide the generation of more options for parties to consider.

Jerome Weiss

Jerry Weiss is a civil mediator who maintains an eye for the emotional component to negotiations and an openness to the transformative potential of mediation.  Though Jerry remains one of the longest full-time mediation practitioners in Ohio, he has remained active as a lecturer, serving as an adjunct law professor and delivering nearly 60 presentations on mediation across the US, Canada, and New Zealand.

Jerry’s presentation is entitled “Heart, Mind, and Soul: Insights from a Career of Reflective Mediation and Tools for Reinvigorating the Practice of Mediation.”

Jerry will be packing a career’s worth of practical insight into a three-hour presentation.  His lectures will involve a mix of practical tools, personal anecdotes, useful research, thoughts on the inner workings of mediation, and a variety of frameworks that Jerry has found to be useful in his career as a mediator.  Jerry sees many mediators taking a rote, overly-methodical approach to disputes.  He will present the reasons and methods for empowering the emotional core of mediation.

Jerry’s presentation will touch on a wide variety of topics, all aiming to improve your mediation practice.  His presentation will end with a lengthy armchair discussion and Q&A.  As a dedicated and reflective practitioner, an experienced teacher, and long-time mediation advocate, we are sure that Jerry will be able to provide participants with much insight.

To register for either or both of these sessions, visit our registration page.  We hope to see you on May 19th!

With a Great Lack of Power Comes Great Responsibility (to Participate in Mediation Skill-Building)

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Mediation continues to struggle as a profession. In fact, many doubt that we are a profession, confident that all of the skills required for mediation are already held by experienced attorneys or could be easily taught in a weekend-long training to volunteers. And, if mediation is already fully developed as a process and profession, then those skeptics are correct. Mediation is underused and most practicing mediators do not have extensive mediation training.

The reason for this is that mediation has been stinted in its development and still has room to grow. When mediation was first introduced in America, it faced fierce opposition as a new and different process. As a result, mediation adopted the ideal of impartiality–using the impartiality of judges as a familiar analog. Impartiality can also leave mediators fearful of using influence in the process.

Mediators can be more than a crossing guard, making sure that disputants do not speak over each other. Mediators can be more than the people who remind parties about the risk and expense of going to court.

This is not to say that we should carry the power of attorneys to predict courtroom outcomes or the power of judges to decide these outcomes. We have no power. But a lack of power allows for freedom.

Unlike judges and attorneys, mediators have the freedom to disagree with disputants. Attorneys must appease their clients, and judges must maintain an air of impartiality prior to making a decision. Mediators, on the other hand, have the freedom to speak discomforting truths. But, because disputants can discontinue mediation the moment they feel offended, we must speak these discomforting truths with supreme levels of skill and persuasion.

This is why we must continue to expand and develop our mediation skills. Though the basics of mediation can be taught to anyone in a relatively short amount of time, it takes a large toolbox and nuanced skill to weld a lack of power in a powerful way. However, in order to develop our skills and tools, we must learn from each other and look to new and different sources of knowledge.

This is why our bi-monthly meetings are shifting to skill-building round-table discussions. We are the professionals who are searching for better ways to mediate. Though the flood of clients did not coalesce when the public learned about and accepted the basic mediation process, we now have the legitimacy to try new and different things. So, our aspiration with these skill-building sessions is that each participant shares his or her favorite mediation tool, and everyone walks away with a full toolbox.

This is also why we looked to present different, practical perspectives at our upcoming Annual Conference. For the first time, we are presenting different speakers in the morning and afternoon and giving you the choice of attending one or both sessions. Our morning speaker is a Harvard and Stanford-educated academic who is highly prolific in the social science research of negotiation behaviors. Her work includes new ideas and frameworks that have the potential to deepen your mediation practice. Our afternoon speaker is an accomplished mediation practitioner who has remained reflective of his practice, delivering 60 conference presentations and teaching mediation as an adjunct law professor. He has build a full career of practical experience at the mediation table and will be sharing his favorite tools with you.

We hope to see you at our next skill-building meeting and at the Annual Conference on May 19th.

February 2017 Membership Meeting

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On February 3rd, 2017, OMA will hold its membership meeting at the Columbus Public Library in downtown Columbus from 12:00 to 1:15.  We will have two topics on the agenda:
1.  Cathy Geyer, Manager of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Dispute Resolution Section will speak on the upcoming efforts of the Court to modify rules for court-connected mediation, provide mediation services to government entities, and promote the practice of mediation in Ohio
2.  We are inviting experienced mediators to share and learn from each other in our first “Tricks of the Trade” roundtable.  Bring one idea and come away with many.  The topic this month will be tools used in caucusing.  For example, what activity do you give one party to do while you are meeting with the other party?
The address is 96 S Grant Ave, Columbus, OH 43215

Nominations Open for Better World Award

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We are now accepting nominations for the 2017 Better World Award.  The Better World Award seeks to recognize contributions to the field of mediation and conflict resolution.

The nomination form can be found here.  Please fill out this form and email it to or mail it to The Ohio Mediation Association, P.O. Box 473, Columbus, Ohio 43216.

Social (Media) Proof: Marketing Mediation in Modern America

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Marketing might not carry the altruistic, save-the-world character of mediation, but marketing may be necessary to save the field of mediation.

Crisis in Conflict Resolution

When mediation was first introduced as an alternative to litigation, its proponents seemed to believe that widespread use of mediation would occur if the public knew about it (one survey in the early 1990s supported this assumption[1]). This view makes sense in light of the flaws of litigation and the ability of mediation to remedy these flaws. Litigation involves risk, expense, and incentives for each side to exaggerate and minimize in a way that hinders the truth-telling potential of courtroom procedure. Because attorneys understand this, they tend to negotiate with opposing counsel and sell settlements to clients who were not directly involved in reaching this resolution. With the psychological benefit of getting to yes shifted to attorneys, it’s no wonder that clients resent lawyers and are often dissatisfied with legal negotiations.[2]

However, despite the rational benefits of mediation and increased public awareness of the process, the demand for mediation has not materialized in the way its early adapters had predicted.[3] There are a number of cultural, psychological, and decision-science elements working against the widespread use of mediation.

First, American culture presents obstacles to mediation. Our collective psyche focuses on individualism over collectivism and the benefits of competition. As a projection of our approach to conflict, our justice system focuses on discerning an objective truth rather than accepting multiple, varied truths in a search for the greater good. And, finally, our culture tends to discredit negotiation, frowning on car salesmen in a way that cultures employing a bartering economy would not.

Next, important psychological elements work against the use of mediation. Though mediation presents a rational choice for disputants, people in crisis are not thinking rationally. Also, people can be conflict-avoidant, preferring outcomes handed down from authorities or accepting their lot through cognitive dissonance. Lastly, people discount ideas coming from adversaries, including offers, counteroffers, and even the suggestion of attending mediation (NOTE: research by Dr. Tanya Menon–one of our speakers for the 2017 OMA Conference–indicates that, while people discount ideas from adversaries, they value ideas from competitors).

Finally, the dynamics of how people with conflicting positions reach decisions also deters the frequent practice of mediation. Often, one disputant is satisfied with the status quo and will not approach the negotiation table voluntarily. Also, openness in a cooperative process exposes the participant to being taken advantage of by competitive adversaries (consider the competition-cooperation dynamics of the Prisoner’s Dilemma). Furthermore, if parties could mutually identify the problem and agree to approach mediation, they likely would be able to communicate effectively enough to negotiate without the assistance of a mediator.

The force of the above obstacles prevents the public from turning to mediation, even when they know that it’s an option. It is not enough to teach the public that mediation exists and offer it alongside litigation. So, how do we overcome these obstacles? I suggest that we look to marketing with effective use of information technology.

Marketing Mediation in Modern America

These days, people get most of their information online. People trust online reviews, satisfy their curiosity through search engines, and believe rumors they read on Facebook. Culture is an integrated pattern of knowledge, beliefs, and customs; and our culture is recorded, modified, and transmitted through the Internet. As a result, behaviors, culture, and decisions are best influenced through online presence. By “online presence” I am referring to your ability to be the subject of online testimonials and be at the top of online searches.

For example, lets say you’re an attorney looking for mediation clients. In addition to the people who are approaching you through personal references and traditional marketing, you want to be seen by potential clients Google-searching “low-cost litigation” or “how to avoid court” along with your practice area and geographical location. If you write an online article about how litigation is cheaper when people avoid court by using mediation and then link that article to your OMA profile or Google business listing, you are more likely to be seen by these potential clients.

While it is not enough that disputants know that mediation is an option, it is possible to use the Internet to convince them through targeting their decision-making process, social proof, and eventually changing our culture. First, though people are generally aware of mediation in a cool-headed state of mind, it is not where their mind goes when they are in crisis. Consider what disputants would Google search when panicking about the subject matter you mediate, then write a blog about that and link your contact information or Google business profile. And even when you have one disputant sold on the idea, you will need to convince the other of your credentials. So, next, use social proof by encouraging satisfied customers to rate and review you online. This means Facebook likes, Google business listing ratings, or reviews on websites that list members of your subject matter profession (e.g., for attorneys). Eventually, people will not only have knowledge of mediation but also experience with it. Innovation research indicates that new ideas “tip” into widespread application when 15% of the population regularly applies them.[4]

The thought leaders who publicized the existence of mediation took the first important step toward a more collaborative society. However, it is now up to the practitioners to reach out to disputants to make mediation a process people turn to when facing crisis.


[1] Adr Awareness, 10 Alternatives to High Cost Litig. 148 (1992) (“A recent survey by the National Institute for Dispute Resolution of public attitudes toward ADR reveals that once people understand what dispute resolution processes are, they overwhelmingly choose ADR to settle a dispute, rather than going to trial.”)

[2] Craig A. Mcewen et. al., Bring in the Lawyers: Challenging the Dominant Approaches to Ensuring Fairness in Divorce Mediation, 79 Minn. L. Rev. 1317 (1995) (“In the episodic, lawyer-run negotiation, clients who play a passive and consultative role may believe that their lawyers are doing little and resent the diminished participation in and control over their case. The direct engagement of parties and concentrated attention to negotiation that mediation provides can thus improve lawyer-client relationships as well as efficiency and communication.”)

[3] Robert Benjamin, Guerilla Mediation: The Use of Warfare Strategies in the Management of Conflict (1999) (available at

[4] Geoffrey A. Moore, Crossing the Chasm (2014)

Zena Zumeta and Power in Mediation

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On November 11th, the Ohio Mediation Association held its first Fall half-day mediation training.  The event was a success, with many OMA members from the Toledo, Cleveland, and Akron areas, along with a few of our comrades from MANO (the Mediation Association of Northeast Ohio) in attendance.  Also present were a handful of diehard mediators from Columbus and Desiree Lyonette, who won the distance award by driving up from Wheeling, West Virginia.

Our speaker at this event was the nationally-renowned Zena Zumeta.  Zena delivered this training as an interactive skill-building session.  Participants described tough mediations and then acted them out, with Zena and other participants taking turns acting as the mediator.  This format allowed Zena to step back and describe the various approaches and mediation strategies.

My favorite tool that Zena described involved analyzing the source of each disputant’s power and then addressing them in a way that would generate movement.  This idea got me thinking.  An effective mediator is able to bring disputants to move from their initial positions.  When the dispute is not resolved by better informing the disputants of each other’s perspectives, getting people to change their mind involves an exercise of power.  Every dispute is a situation in which each disputant has various powers or potential powers over the other, and at least one party is dissatisfied with the existing power dynamics.  If only one party has all the power, then there is no dispute.  For example, if I’m jealous of my neighbor’s new Lexus, but I can’t afford one myself, then there is no dispute.  But if my neighbor runs over my foot with said Lexus, then my power is the ability to take my neighbor to court while her power is the ability to hire an attorney, pay my resulting medical bills, apologize, or let me drive the Lexus on my next date night.

So, in order to resolve the dispute, the parties mutually agree to relinquish or trade specific powers.  Asking the parties about their feelings about the situation or broad ideas for resolution will not necessarily touch on the power dynamics that are at the heart of the matter.  Mediators must identify the sources of power and get the parties thinking about how they can be leveraged.  I like what Zena did in the role play to make this happen–she got me talking about something of which I had power/control, asked me a “what if” question to explore how I would use this power based on the potential actions of the other side, and then kept asking me for more options of my own potential actions.  Once I had described a variety of ways that I could exercise power over the other disputant, she asked me which one I preferred, which options I could live with as a backup, and then got me thinking about how to offer one option while indicating a willingness to use an option that the other side would prefer less.

While mediators who emphasize the need for impartiality may be uncomfortable with addressing power dynamics between parties, it is my personal opinion that ignoring power dynamics only enables them.  The problems with power imbalance in mediation is that one disputant gets a better deal based on considerations that are not the appropriate basis of a decision between conflicting perspectives (e.g., who can make the other side feel uncomfortable, intimidated, or guilty).  If a mediator ignores these in the interests of impartiality, then the mediator is merely going back and forth, asking the parties to respond to each other, and possibly allowing one party to manipulate the other.  The better approach is to help the parties explore their relative strengths and weaknesses, ask them for a variety of options for leveraging these issues, and then facilitate a negotiation in which both sides feel acknowledged and respected.

Overall, it was a nice training.  The various mediators who were present had an opportunity to apply their preferred approach and compare it to the approaches espoused by other mediators.  It was also good to get OMA out of central Ohio and reach out to our members and other mediators up north.  If anyone is interested in an OMA-sponsored mediation training elsewhere in the state, mention it in the comments under this post or email

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Events & Updates

December Meeting: Robintek Discusses Marketing your Mediation Practice

On December 2nd, 2016, we will meet at the MCL Cafeteria in Westerville for a presentation from Robintek, the online marketing team that revamped our website.  Bring your laptop for personal instruction on how to make best use of the new and how to increase your own online presence.