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One Word

by Phyllis Pollack
April 2009

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

       Last week, there was a pretty important mediation. It involved a lot of parties - 20 to be exact - on a very important issue- the global economy. It took place in London and was co-mediated. The primary mediator - Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain- seemed to be doing a good job - moving all of the parties forward toward a resolution.  

       But then, as inevitably happens towards the end of a mediation that seems to be going smoothly and well - a glitch occurred- over a minor issue (which is always the case.) Two of the parties (disputants?) got into a row about tax havens. It seems that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France got into a dispute with Premier Hu Jintao of China over whether the Group of 20’s (“G20?) communique (aka settlement agreement) would explicitly name and shame global tax havens.  President Sarkozy wanted to explicitly name names and “recognize” a list of tax havens being published by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”). President Sarkozy was tired of tax cheaters and wanted to crack down on tax escapers. To him, naming the names and “recognizing” them as tax cheaters was a first good step toward regulating tax havens (which President Sarkozy believes may have contributed to the world’s economic woes.)

       In contrast, Premier Hu vehemently objected since Hong Kong and Macao which are under China’s sovereignty, might just be named since they are known tax havens. Further, as China is not a member of the OECD, it has no control over who would be included in the list. Moreover, Premier Hu viewed President Sarkozy’s stance as impliedly accusing China of lax tax regulation to which the Premier took great umbrage.

       Like any disputants with strong counter views, Messrs. Hu and Sarkozy went at it, sniping at each other. To the other 18 parties, it appeared to spell the doom of the communique; everyone’s efforts were about to go down the tubes or up in flames….so to speak.

       But then,… in walks the co-mediator to help “close’ the deal. Like any good mediator, President Obama invited both President Sarkozy and Premier Hu into a corner of the large convention hall, to meet with them separately and then to meet with each of them one-on-one  to “listen” to each of them to learn about their ‘needs and interests.”  Then, based on what he heard from each party in private separate sessions, he would attempt to find common ground that would lead to a resolution.

       After an hour of employing such mediation techniques, President Obama, the mediator, was able to get the parties to agree to use the word ‘note” rather than “recognize’ with respect to the list of tax havens being published by the OECD. As is typical when any resolution is reached, the parties shook hands to the amazement of the other 17 parties in the room.

       In this way, Premier Hu was able to “save face’ in that there was no implied accusation that China was harboring tax cheaters or escapers and President Sarkozy was also able to “save face’ by showing his constituents back home that France was, indeed, taking a stand against tax havens.

       Thanks to President Obama’s mediation skills, the communique was not doomed to failure by a  last minute dispute over a minor issue, but, was signed by all 20 parties. He was, indeed, the “closer”, and the G20 summit was a huge success.

       On his way to London to the G20 summit, President Obama said he was going “to listen, not lecture…” (Los Angeles Times, Friday, April 3, 2009 at p. A24). Indeed, President Obama, spoke the language of a mediator, not a disputant:

      “We exercise our leadership best when we are listening, when we recognize that the world is a complicated place and that we are going to have to act in partnership with other countries, when we lead by example, when we show some element of humility and recognize that we may not always have the best answer, but we can always encourage the best answer and support  the best answer.” (Id.) 

       We have a mediator in the White House; one who “listens” , looks for common ground and finds a resolution based on such tools.

      When we think of “mediation”, we think of our own little disputes in our own little corner of the world; the barking dog annoying the neighbor, the landlord who is trying to evict the tenant, the employee who believes she was wrongly terminated, the partners who want to end their partnership, the buyer who believes that the seller breached her contract or the consumer who believes her automobile is a “lemon”. But, now President Obama, with his skills, has shown all of us that “mediation” is not just for small town or “local” disputes anymore; it has now hit the big  time. It has taken the world stage: front and center, and will not be leaving anytime soon, (or at least not for another 3 years and 9 months). Along with all of his other titles, President Obama has now earned another one: Mediator in Chief/ Peacemaker in Chief. Needless to say, the peacemakers of the world are thrilled. . . .

       . . .Just something to think about. . .!


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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