Were there cases where you never brought the parties together or never met with them separately?


Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What do you do when you get the parties to the table and they reach an impasse, and just can't go forward?

Answer:
I can think of only one case where we actually got to mediation and that happened. It was a court-requested or court-ordered mediation. And it was after days of work. I did what I usually do: I usually start with what I would call shuttle diplomacy I hedge my bets. I like to know what the parties are going to say when they come to the table before they come to the table. So I do a lot of work with the parties individually before I actually bring them to the table. In this case, they were in the same building, but in separate rooms. It became very, very clear that we were not going to get anywhere. So I ended up just telling the court, "Your honor, I'm sorry, I tried, but it's not going to happen here," without saying whose fault it was. You know, I had my own perception, and I thought, quite frankly, that one of the parties was probably foolish, because they could have gotten some gains and they ultimately lost. I think they could have negotiated some gains out of this. So in that case, I didn't have a clue of how to get past the impasse. But that's the only one I can think of where parties agreed to mediate, but where they didn't reach at least some agreement. There was another one that wasn't court-ordered, but which had been in court, and it included some hiring and affirmative action-type provisions. The parties reached agreement on most of the pieces, but not all of them. In this case, I think that part of the reason they couldn't agree on all of it was that one of the parties was given false expectations by their attorney. The way we left it in the agreement was that we stated the areas in which they agreed, and the rest went back to the court and the judge would issue a ruling. In each case, what the judge ruled was what the other party had offered in the first place. So, unfortunately for the other party the minority party in this case they really didn't get anything more than they might have gotten if they had continued to mediate and reach a settlement that way. One of the things that I always do at the beginning of a mediation session, is get the parties to agree on what to do if there is partial but not full agreement. If there are ten issues, for example, and they can only reach agreement on seven, does that mean they go ahead and sign an agreement on those seven, and leave the other three hanging? Or, if we don't reach agreement on everything, then do we throw it all out and say that there's no agreement, period? I think you want to get that understanding before they start. It's much better than getting half-way through the mediation, only to have one party suddenly say, "I'm sorry, if we don't get such-and-such, then all bets are off." So getting an assurance from both parties that partial agreements are acceptable is one of the ways of avoiding a major disaster. Sometimes, just pointing out how much agreement they've already reached then becomes an incentive for continuing the discussions. I can think of another case in which there was huge mistrust and even hostility between the parties. Some of the issues were complicated enough that it would require, or certainly benefit from, some outside expertise. So in that case, what we did was have each of the parties recommend a consultant who could provide expertise, and then we picked a third person within that field of expertise. So we had those three consultants or experts meet, and come up with some proposed approaches to dealing with the issues in contention. They did that successfully, and then they were able to sell those ideas to the parties, because they had credibility. So that enabled us to get them to agree to some approaches, and that would have been very difficult had we brought in only one consultant. If we'd had only one "expert," both parties would have said, "Is that consultant on their side, or is she on our side?" So having a panel of three worked very well in that particular instance. It was expensive for CRS, because CRS doesn't have those kinds of resources. But we did it in that particular case, and they did ultimately reach an agreement. So that's another approach to get past an impasse.






Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

So if I don't think that there's at least some area where they're going to be able to reach some agreement, or some understanding, I typically keep them apart. If anything, I do shuttle diplomacy because I don't want this first experience of actually eyeballing each other to be one of further conflict and disappointment and failure.





Efrain Martinez


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

were there ever cases where you didn't bring the parties together, you just engaged in shuttle diplomacy back and forth?

Answer:
I think I mentioned in this little town in Texas where, remember, the lead protestor called me on the phone and left a message.

Question:
Yes you did, right.

Answer:
And the police chief also called me and they wouldn't meet with each other. Sometimes it's not necessarily that people don't want to meet with each other but it's inconvenient. Either I take the response in writing and share with the other group, or when I was doing the mediation of the lawsuit, we had attorney's in Washington, San Antonio, and Houston so I just did it on conference calls, it was mediation by telephone.




Ozell Sutton


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Did you always meet separately with the groups or did you ever run them together at the same location?

Answer:
No. This was not table mediation, this was street mediation. Street mediation is when you move between the parties, because to bring them together would reap no benefits at all. Their situation was too volatile, they were too far apart. There were times when the ministers did meet with the mayor; after all, he couldn't refuse to meet with them. They're great citizens of the city, right? I didn't bring them there, but if they had something they wanted to say to the mayor, they'd call down there and tell the mayor's executive that they wanted to see the mayor and they'd see the mayor. And I'd go, but I never arranged a meeting between them and the mayor.




Will Reed


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

In this situation at the University, did the President want to meet with the other parties or did he accept you meeting separately with each party?

Answer:
No. I called the shots. I said, "This is the way we'll do it," and we did it just that way. Now, they could have backed me in a corner and said, "BS! We're not going to do it that way." But they took the position that, "Maybe since this guy's done this one or two times before and we never have, maybe we'll go along with what he's doing." Now, had it broken down and turned out to be a fiasco, they might have overruled what I said, and then I would have had to go and do what they wanted or there would have been no discussions or negotiations or mediations or anything.

Question:
Did you ever experience any situation where the two parties refused to meet with one another, where you wanted them to sit down at the table together, but one party refused?

Answer:
I can't recall as to whether or not anything happened like that. We went to the table, we didn't go to the table. Sometimes I saw a disadvantage to going to the table based on the power, who had the resources, who had the influence, politically and otherwise.




Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Did you ever slow parties down who did want to meet? Did you ever decide that they were not ready yet and you didnít want to bring them together yet?

Answer:
I donít think so. Iím thinking of the Skokie-Nazi conflict where parties would not meet. They would not meet; they would not acknowledge each other. It was so bad that the ACLU could not get a response to a request from the village of Skokie for a parade permit for their client the neo-Nazis. And we had to serve as the intermediary and go to Skokie because the city officials were told not to communicate with the neo-Nazis in any way. So we all of a sudden became this intermediary and the only ones who were talking to all the parties. They would not meet and we knew that. We would never ask them to meet.






Bob Hughes


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Were there cases where you never brought the parties together, or never met with them separately?

Answer:
Never brought them together?

Question:
Did you ever do shuttle diplomacy where you just went back and forth, back and forth?

Answer:
I'd probably regard that as conciliation. You know, I think I'm trying to recall that Georgia case. That was shuttle diplomacy, taking proposals back and forth getting feedback and counter proposals. And that's one example where there was no meeting of the parties involved there. I'm sure it's happened, but off hand I can't remember, nothing comes to mind but I feel sure that it has happened.







Copyright © 2000-2007
by Conflict Management Initiatives and the Conflict Information Consortium at the University of Colorado