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It’s a Gray Area:

Ways to resolve our everyday disputes

August 08, 2009|By James P. Gray

Looking back over my career as a trial court judge, I believe that the thing that brought me the most gratification was helping people to resolve their disputes voluntarily. In fact, in my current work as a private mediator I am still able to do that, so the gratification continues.

But upon reflection, many of the things that I do professionally to facilitate voluntary resolutions of disputes could also be utilized by everyone to resolve their daily disputes. So I thought I would use today’s column to pass along some of the tips that I have learned throughout the years, and I recommend you consider and employ them, and even discuss them with your children and grandchildren to help train them to be peacemakers.

One tool to use at the beginning of settlement discussions is to anticipate the moments in which people on one side or the other may get emotional or upset by asking questions like: “How should we handle it when. . . ?” Many times, settlement discussions are frustrated by these situations. But if you have anticipated them by asking this question, people will see the emotions for what they are, and be able to get through them.

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Probably the most important tool in dispute resolution is listening actively. In fact it should not be considered to be an accident that the word “listen” has the same exact letters in it as the word “silent.” Not only will you receive important and often subtle information simply by listening to people as they set forth their grievances, you will also gain their confidence by showing that you are willing to consider their feelings and positions. So understand that there is a huge difference between the act of listening, and the act of simply waiting to talk.

In addition, sometimes people simply need to vent before any serious discussions can begin. So take the time to listen to them, and interrupt only with brief, clarifying questions. This will show them that you are listening and interested, but it will not interfere with the flow of their thoughts.

It is also important to focus upon the fact that the act of listening is not at all the same thing as agreeing. But seldom can disputes be resolved by people who do not understand the position of each side. Then once the person has finished, it can often be helpful to summarize in your own words what that person has said. This will help to put things into perspective, and also show everyone involved that you understand what the issues are.

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