Arts, Mediation and Understanding

Sep 4, 2018

If given the option to avoid a protracted legal proceeding involving your arts-related dispute, would you choose it? Would you be interested in resolving your conflict and reaching a confidential agreement that could reduce tension in your arts organization, make the “elephant in the room” disappear during your quartet rehearsals, restore harmony with an artistic collaborator or recover your intellectual property?

I know that I would. As a professional musician and a lawyer, I have witnessed first-hand how protracted conflicts can damage artistic relationships, irrevocably strain creative work environments, cost a fortune as the dispute wends its way through the court system and, simultaneously, create “monsters” of people who once seemed reasonable. Opting instead for mediation provides an opportunity to abandon a disruptive conflict and spend more time focusing on your art or returning to your arts organization with a renewed sense of purpose and vision.

I believe that mediation is one of the most effective tools available to resolve conflicts. There are many mediation models based on different guiding principles but, ultimately, the goal for each is to provide a facilitated environment where the disputing parties attempt to reach a resolution that addresses the needs and concerns of each. And, in my opinion, the mediation model which seems ideally suited to working in the arts community is the Understanding Based Model, created and developed by mediation gurus, Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein – co-directors and co-founders of The Center for Understanding in Conflict.

This model underscores a voluntary, confidential process where the parties, along with a “non-coercive neutral”:

  • make a concerted effort to listen and participate fully in the process;
  • work directly with each other to identify and explore the nature and cause of the conflict; and
  • take advantage of the opportunity to reach a self-directed and mutually satisfying agreement that they create, believe in and can honor into the future.

It may seem counter-intuitive to work toward understanding the party whom you are in conflict with especially when you may feel misunderstood by them, but the effort can produce powerful results. I regularly witness the transition to resolution and creative problem solving when the parties are able to hear things differently as the dispute is transformed into a conversation open to thoughtful consideration.

Choosing mediation does not preclude you from seeking legal counsel or bringing lawyers into the mediation to provide information on your legal rights, but it allows the parties to work closely with the mediator to create an environment where understanding and respect can thrive. Using this model encourages the parties to fully engage and practice finding points of agreement from the start of the mediation. Mediation does not guarantee resolution or promise that damaged relationships can be mended; but it does focus on discovery of what lies “under the level at which the parties experience the problem” which can provide crucial information leading to resolution. (from Challenging Conflict: Mediation Through Understanding by Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein)

As a musician, I am very familiar with how fragile and intimate the expressions of our artistry can be and how instinctive it is to protect who we are and what we create. However, I am convinced that the commitment to artistic exploration and to resolving conflicts that undermine the art is both complementary and courageous.

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