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A-DR Provocateur. Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Embrace Conflict.

“My mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier you’ll be a general; if you become a monk you’ll end up as the pope.’ Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.” -Pablo Picasso

Had Picasso gone into law, he would probably have ended up a mediator; and turned the conventional wisdom of conflict management on its head.

Few of us entered the “alternative” dispute resolution movement/field expecting to escape conflict and controversy. As tradition-bound and classically trained legal professionals, many of us embraced this approach to managing conflict despite the difficulties ahead. We fully realized that our colleagues in law could strongly resist the cultural and perceptual changes that we would propose. That is why Robert Benjamin’s sentiment in “Dirty Little Secrets” struck me so hard, when he recently challenged ADR professionals to take the dialogue out of the “living room of our profession”.

Professor Benjamin’s sentiments echo the noise made in Picasso’s own “Cubist” revolt to begin the twentieth century. Cubists broke away from traditional artistic expressions, spurring controversy and an alternative way of thought. These traditions strictly tied artists to numerous rules or elements. They affected the use of paint to accurately depict the subject. They affected the illusions derived by following the rigid, scientific laws of perspective. Cubists, by contrast, fragment and then reconstruct their subject from the mind’s complex observations. Cubists aim to paint a multi-perspective view that defies the eye’s limits and reflects many angles simultaneously in a single “interlocking pattern”.

“Alternative” or “Appropriate” Dispute Resolution challenges traditional legal expression. ADR spurs controversy and an unconventional way of thought. Traditions in the American legal system strictly tie advocates to numerous rules, regulations and elements of law. They affect the use of language to accurately explain a set of empirical facts. They affect the illusions derived by following the rigid, evidentiary and procedural laws of legal perspective. Mediators, by contrast, fragment and then reframe their subject to reflect a complex multi-perspective view.

Recognizing the dangers of the broad brush stokes that follow here…in managing conflict, mediators seek to paint beyond the singular, traditional right/wrong, win/lose perspective. We build resolution upon a single “interlocking pattern” of multi-angled views on the problem. We aim to help the advocates and the parties defy the limits of the court’s eye. We help to construct a “Picasso”.

As we move away from some of the existing conventions used to manage and resolve conflict, perhaps we can embrace Professor Benjamin’s plea to also bring the dialogue from out of the “living room”. Only by inviting “hard dialogues” with those entrenched in tradition can perceptions of how to manage conflict change on a systemic level. If that means we stir-up and endure some Cubist-like controversy, so be it.

With regards to Pablo Picasso: Perhaps that, my colleagues is why we went into law and wound up as mediators.


Scott Crosier. “Pablo Picasso: Cubism – A Revolution of Spatial Presentation in Artistic Expression.” (last checked on August 24, 2005)

Robert Benjamin. “Dirty Little Secrets: ACR’s “Girly Man” Non-Controversy.” (last checked on August 24, 2005).


Joshua A. Berkowitz

Josh Berkowitz is a first time columnist for He has been practicing as a mediator in numerous contexts since 2000, and draws on more than seven years of experience working with organizations and business leaders in the dispute resolution and communication fields. He works closely with Robert Dobbins to… MORE >

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