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<xTITLE>Improvisational Negotiation (Book Review)</xTITLE>

Improvisational Negotiation (Book Review)

by Rick Russell
July 2006 Improvisational Negotiation
Jeff Krivis has been a successful commercial mediator in the greater Los Angeles CA area for fifteen years. He is an adjunct professor at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution and a lecturer at Pepperdine Law School. Jeff has been a keen observer and student of the mediation process for many years and his insights are many.

This volume, running to 322 pages, is a collection of short stories, most typically ten to fifteen pages in length each, describing lessons learned in the often hectic to an fro of commercial mediation.

Krivis has organized his material to make it most accessible and interesting to both the casual reader and the professional mediator. Each chapter is a story and there are thirty (30) chapters in all. The chapters are organized into four parts.

Part One is entitled Human v. Human: Healing Relationships. The focus here is on overcoming difficult past history or negative attributions that parties are making about each other.

Part Two , called Show Me the Money (or Something of Equal Value)!: Creative Solutions focuses on breaking impasses around what appear to be scarce resources like money problems.

Part Three , named Getting to the Bottom Line describes strategies to deal with barriers preventing the real agenda from coming forward.

Part Four , is a compendium of all of the key strategies identified in the three preceding Parts with names and definitions, entitled The Mediator’s Hip Pocket Guide to Strategy.

Improvisational Negotiation is not like most mediation text books. There are none of the “tired truisms” that we are all too familiar with. Instead Krivis gives us purposeful narratives digested with summary “What Happened?” and “What Strategy Can We Learn?” sections that make clear what the story is intended to illustrate and what strategy or tactic was employed or discovered through the experience.

The methodology is sensible and is based on proven adult learning principles, which is not surprising since Krivis is an accomplished adult educator. The stories are written in clear, simple prose and not too legalistic (but just enough to make us lawyer mediators feel at comfortably home).

I won’t ruin it for you by explaining the techniques described here. Suffice to say that for those of you looking to discover “the good stuff”, the trade secrets of commercial mediation, this is the book. One of the simple pleasures of Improvisational Negotiation is the apt metaphor and monikers that the Jeff associates with his techniques. These reflect the depth of appreciation that the author brings to his subject.

To whet your appetite and curiousity I will name but a few of the more colourful here:

  • “Reality Television”
  • “Controlled Sharing”
  • The “Slow Drip” Method
  • The “Fishy Calculator”
  • “Culling the Herd”
  • “Final Jeopardy” Mediation
  • “Bracketing”
  • “Balance the Books”
  • “Double Blind Proposal”
  • Questioning as the Mediator’s Improvisational Jazz Music
  • The “Two Step Offer”
  • “Controlled Credibility Evaluation”

As a long-established commercial mediator I would confess to having discovered most (but certainly not all) of the strategies outlined here, some many years ago. For many less experienced mediators, this collection will be a welcome eye opener.

A good number of the creative approaches and re-ordering of the mediation process that Krivis describes are both original and bold and open up new possibilities that many, including myself, may not have considered before.

Finally, this text provides a real boon to those of us who offer advanced mediation workshops and university level courses. The gritty stories can form the basis for exciting and involving group work and reflection.

Jeffrey Krivis is to be commended for his boldness, creativity and courage in putting his own experiences, both good and bad, out there for all of us to learn from. It is a worthy piece of work from an accomplished scholar and pioneering professional colleague.


Jeffrey Krivis

Improvisational Negotiation. This phrase summarizes Krivis’ philosophy for a successful and dynamic mediated negotiation. A successful mediation needs both keen legal insight gained from years of litigation experience and cannot be scripted.

Exploring this idea with further study led Krivis to venture on the stage as a stand-up comedian. Ultimately, he authored a book entitled Improvisational Negotiation: A Mediator’s Stories of Conflict About Love, Money and Anger – and the Strategies that Resolved Them (Wiley/Jossey-Bass 2006). This book received the 2006 Outstanding Book Award from the CPR International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution.

Krivis began his mediation practice in 1989 breaking open a niche in the Southern California dispute resolution landscape. He crafted a process that sets the stage for successful resolution. Through improvising, harmonizing, and always closing, he has resolved thousands of disputes including wage and hour and consumer class actions, entertainment, mass tort, employment, business, complex insurance, product liability and wrongful death matters.

Rick Russell has a broad range of experience in dispute resolution, having practiced as a civil litigation lawyer, an ombudsman, a mediator, a facilitator, an arbitrator, a third party fact finder and a trainer. Rick has mediated well over one thousand cases since 1988. These include business and commercial matters, bodily injury, disability and general insurance claims, workplace and employment, estates, human rights, insolvency, real estate and land use matters. Rick is active as a trainer, offering public courses in ADR and Advanced Mediation Clinics in association with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel College, University of Waterloo. He also instructs in the University of Toronto’s Certificate Program in Dispute Resolution, and for Queen’s University’s Industrial Relations Centre. His in house training clientele include Royal & SunAlliance, Clarica insurance, Environment Canada, Morrison Hershfield Consulting Engineers and many others.