Conflict Resolution

Okefenokee Lessons

My admiration for Walt Kelly has recently developed into an obsession, and over the past few years I have been gobbling up each volume of The Complete Pogo as it has trundled off the presses.  Churchy, Mam’selle Hepzibah, Albert and Pup Dog not being that far from my mind, the hot days of summer have kicked in to prompt a lemonade reflection.

The fruits of mediating are many, by no means restricted to whether disputes settle.  Working with indignant people as they wrestle with their sense of injustice or betrayal, or try to assess what is best for their business, or to determine how to manage the expectations of their colleagues, is a fascinating thing.  I value being around smarter folks than I am, and when I mediate everybody in the room knows more about the dispute than I do.

What’s fascinating is coaching the process of remove — of distance, assessment, judgment, risk, opportunity, and face-saving.  Observing who is willing to go forward and who needs to stay where they are for a bit.  Who defines themselves by solutions and who by problems.  And, of course, to have the luxury of doing this when it’s not your money on the table.

On the hot summer afternoon when I write this post, I am struck by the worthiness of it all.  Not the virtue of my skills, or even of the facilitative process itself, but rather of the way people tend to behave — sooner or later — when confronting such challenges.  Just about everyone I’ve worked with finds a way to reframe the event from an affront, or a wrong, to a challenge, or a problem.  Not everyone figures out how to fix it, right there in front of your eyes.  But almost all of them get to a point where fixing it becomes more attractive than punishing someone about it, or blaming someone for it.

Walt Kelly knew this, of course, years before I did.  And in case any of you mediators catch yourselves in an Okefenokee mood, I offer Pogo and Porky, leaning on a log, from October 17, 1953:




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