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It’s a Gray Area:

Ways to resolve our everyday disputes

August 08, 2009|By James P. Gray

Then I requested the church representatives and their attorneys to go into the jury room and consider and respond to those suggestions. When they emerged in about another hour, not only did they agree to each of the 10 suggestions, they actually added an additional one of their own.

At that point, I suggested a dollar figure to settle the case that was quite a bit less than plaintiff had requested, but more than the church had said it was willing to pay. Soon each side agreed to that number, and the case was settled. This approach enlisted each side to help address the fundamental problem, and helped to give them a vested interest in being a part of its resolution. The plaintiff realized that he could never institute these changes by going to trial, only by settling the case. And the church recognized that it could turn an enormously negative situation into something more positive. In addition, each side also received the gratification of knowing that this positive result was facilitated by their own suggestions.


A big secret tool in dispute resolution is to keep the parties slowly moving closer toward each other. And this progress can be about anything. In the example above, if the complaining neighbors simply state that they also enjoy Beethoven, that can disclose a common bond between them. And the more things people see that they have in common, the more likely they are to agree to a workable resolution of their disputes.

Finally, in my mediation efforts I often tell the parties that I am really in the “dissatisfaction distribution business,” and that is true. You will notice that in this discussion I have only used the word “resolution,” and not the word “solution.”

The reason is that most of the time the only things that have actual solutions are mathematical equations; human problems only have resolutions.

So when you are attempting to work with people and deal with their disputes, make sure they understand that probably nothing will make the situation perfect.

We only can do the best we can in an imperfect world.

But being a peacemaker is a skill that can be practiced and improved. And once it is employed successfully, it can bring to you about as perfect a feeling as you will ever enjoy.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at or via his website at .

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