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by Phyllis Pollack
April 2020

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack

I just finished reading a book entitled, Start With Why? By Simon Sinek (Penguin Group, New York, 2009) which posits a simple thesis on why some organizations are very successful and others are not. It all depends on whether they have maintained or lost their “why”- their vision, their cause, their belief, their purpose. (Id. at 39.) And by this, the author does not mean WHAT they do (e.g. make widgets) or HOW they do it (e.g. through 3-D printing). Rather, the author means the vision that caused the person to create the company in the first place (e.g. to make the world a better place.)

His theory is that one must start with the “why” (the vision) and from there figure out HOW the company is going to do WHAT it is going to do. By HOW is meant what structures and processes are to be put in place to accomplish the WHAT you are going to do (e.g. build widgets.) (Id. at 39.)

Turning to biology, the author explains that often the “WHY” is nothing more than a gut feeling because it is the limbic brain that controls all of our feelings and decision making but does not control language. It is this for this reason that we cannot put our “gut feelings” into words, we just “know” it to be true. (Id. at 86.) We have a very difficult time explaining why we “know” a certain decision to be right, we just know it!

In contrast, the WHAT and the HOW are based in the neocortex which is responsible for deliberate thought or analytical thought as well as language. Thus, we can put into words WHY we do WHAT we do. (Id.)

Using a bit of creativity, one can apply the “WHY” to conflicts, impasse and their resolution. WHY are we in this dispute? What is its purpose or what is the cause or the person’s belief as to why the conflict exists? What is the party’s vision of the dispute? If we keep asking “WHY”, hopefully we will get well “below the line” and learn the cause of the conflict.

Once that is learned, we can explore the “WHAT” and the “HOW” of the conflict. WHAT is a means for resolving the conflict and HOW will it be resolved? What systems or processes (i.e. settlement terms) will be implemented to accomplish the WHAT of resolution?

The same analysis is useful to resolve an impasse. “WHY” the impasse? What is its purpose, its cause? What is the party’s vision or belief that is creating it? And again, once we get to the bottom of the ”WHY”, we can then move on to HOW (or what systems and processes to use) to resolve the impasse to accomplish our “WHAT” or terms of settlement.

While this analysis may be a bit creative, the one thing I did take away from this book is to always ask “Why”; never assume that I know what someone is thinking or why they said what they said. Each person does have a “why” – a vision, a purpose, an inspiration for doing what they did to create the conflict, and only by our continuously asking “why” do we get to the “real” reason behind the conflict that will then allow us to address the “HOW” to resolve it using “WHAT” tools and means to do so.

…. Just something to think about.

Stay Safe and Healthy!!!
I am pleased to announce that as part of the “new normal”, I am conducting mediations by telephone and video conference (aka Zoom)!


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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