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<xTITLE>Secrets in Plain Sight</xTITLE>

Secrets in Plain Sight

by Lucia Kanter St. Amour
September 2020 Lucia Kanter St. Amour

Secrets in Plain Sight: What a Mediator Sees That You May Not 

The Cat Riddle (Perspective Shifting)

Recently on social media, a short riddle circulated that exemplifies one of the many so-called secret tools that mediators help parties employ when seeking to resolve disputes.  

First, the riddle: In a square room there is a cat in every corner of the room. In front of every cat there are 3 cats. How many cats are there in all?

Hint: it is not a math problem. 

The key to solving the riddle is in perspective shifting. Experienced mediators are able to solve this riddle in fairly short order because we are trained in perspective shifting. What does that mean? The concept is simple (though, like everything else, requires practice to be effective): when we work with parties involved in a dispute, we do so by examining the problem (and possible solutions) from various angles. We ask not only “How would a judge view the situation?” but “How would an engineer view it?” An accountant? An elementary school teacher? A nurse? A stockbroker? A hotel manager?  Notice that we don’t necessarily ask the parties in a dispute to imagine the perspective of the other party (which may be too difficult, given the degree of emotions and biases in play), but from that of an objective party in a particular position. It is a technique that can break through impasse, dodge personal bias, help save face, and inspire proposals for durable and pragmatic solutions. And the best part is that one doesn’t need a credential in engineering, accounting, teaching, nursing, investment brokerage, or even being a cat to employ the technique. 

An old allegory (possibly dating to the 1920’s, though its origin is in dispute) illustrates how parties can often feel and behave when stuck on their own narrative - their own perspective. It tells of a police officer who comes across a drunken man intently searching the ground near a lamppost. The officer asks him the goal of his quest. The inebriate replies that he is looking for his car keys, and the officer helps for a few minutes without success then asks whether the man is certain that he dropped the keys near the lamppost. “No,” is the reply, “I lost the keys somewhere across the street.” “Then why are looking over here?” asks the perplexed officer. “The light is much better here,” the intoxicated man responds.

Moral: failure to explore places other than where it is convenient and comfortable to see the world will often leave you stuck in the same place.

On that note, consider the cat riddle from the perspective of the cat: if you are one of the cats in one of the corners facing into the square room, what do you see? From that vantage point, you see the three other cats “in front of” you. Thus, assuming the law of gravity applies (i.e. no cats occupy the 4 corners of the ceiling), the answer is . . .

[Do not read past this sentence if you are still trying to work it out on your own]



. . .



Four.

Biography


A member of the Neuroleadership Institute, Lucia has specific training in behavioral science, and how real people act in real conflict situations and decision-making. She is the Founder and Principal of her firm, Pactum Factum, which specializes in negotiation and dispute resolution; and a mediate.com Certified Online Mediator.

Lucia has been practicing law since 1998. Ten years of her practice included regular clinical teaching positions in Mediation, and Negotiation and Settlement at UC Hastings and UC Berkeley Law. She has also been a visiting lecturer at many prominent law and business universities in the U.S. and Europe; and served for a number of years as an annual Competition Judge and Mediator for the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, France.

Lucia was one of the small team of original designers of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s pilot mediation program in 1996 for the San Francisco Regional Office, and later received her mediation certification from Harvard Law School's Program on Negotiation. She has consulted and mediated general civil and business disputes; community disputes; and specializes in employment and special education related disputes. Her law practice has included both private and public service as well as non-profit advocacy. She previously practiced employment law in Orrick's San Francisco office; and was an in-house employment attorney for the Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the policymaking body for the entire California court system.



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