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Book Review: Improvisational Negotiation by Jeffrey Krivis

This article was originally published in “The Negotiator Magazine” which has kindly granted permission to republish.

This is a book review of Improvisational Negotiation: A Mediator’s Stories of Conflict about Love, Money, Anger – and the strategies that resolved them by Jeffrey Krivis.

The subtitle of this book will surely attract the attention of mediators and negotiators, but, of course, it’s what’s inside the cover that counts. In this case, it is an outstanding book of stories, strategies and methods that the author has tested and proven in thousands of mediations over a span of fifteen years. Whether you are a mediator, a negotiator or a bit of both, you will find this an interesting and valuable contribution to the field and to the enhancement of your work.

Jeffrey Krivis is an experienced trial lawyer, founder of First Mediation Corporation, a member of the board of visitors at Pepperdine Law School and an adjunct professor at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. He is the author of two dozen articles, one of which has appeared in these pages. He is truly an expert in both mediation and negotiation.

“There’s nothing like a good story to get your point across simply, effectively and memorably,” Krivis tells us immediately as we enter his book (p.1). He is right and to illustrate the value of the technique, he offers the reader “thirty stories, short and to the point” to prove it (p.2).

The first stories all center on tales of persons for whom communications and relationships have broken down, but have left the parties in conflict. Resolution of their issues requires intervention of a third party mediator who must rebuild that lost communication to resolve their issues. We meet fired long-term employees asserting damages for wrongful terminations, some teenage pranksters in trouble, two long-term family friendships lost in a dispute over a loan and a host of other interesting persons and cases. In each instance, we follow the mediator and learn why he has selected certain strategies and techniques to guide the parties towards a resolution. We see them in use as the mediator digs down to find the facts, the concerns, and the fundamental issues that must be understood and managed to achieve closure in each case.

The second part of the book concentrates on disputes centering upon financial obligations. We meet the parties to an accident claim involving a legally blind driver, insurance coverage disputants, some lawyer-client arguments and many more intriguing claimants. We again accompany the mediator through his processes, his methods to determine and distinguish hidden feelings and goals from stated assertions and his efforts to gain agreement between the parties.

“Improvisational negotiation means being prepared to respond to the situation in the moment,” Mr. Krivis tells his reader (p.64). Success, requires an encounter that “involves more than just the mediator it also requires the participation of other parties (p.65). In essence, each mediation is unique as the mediator orchestrates the process, sets up the staging and draws upon alternating approaches to bring the parties to closure. The mediator is in part a detective, carefully observing the participants, reading their body language, meeting with them in carefully engineered groupings and using open-ended statements such as “Tell me more” and “What do you think about that?” as central to his discovery process (p.65).

It is the mediator who makes the parties come to recognize that the goal of the process is closure and that this end can only be achieved through enhancing understanding, negotiation and creative solutions. “The negotiation stage is the heart and soul of mediation,” Krivis concludes (p.165). And, indeed it is in this writer’s view. The two processes are inextricably linked together.

This is an ideal book for the negotiator and the mediator that is enjoyable to read, a grand stimulant to “thinking outside the box” and a trove of techniques and ideas about the processes of both. The author is an outstanding teacher.

The last section of the work, Part Four, provides a “Mediator’s Hip-Pocket Guide to Strategy” which lists and explains some fifty “techniques” and skills that the improvisational mediator or negotiator will find of interest. These range from the commonplace “Brainstorming” method as a means to expand the range of settlement options in a case through the gradual release of extremely sensitive and important information by “Slow Drip” to soliciting yes or no responses to “Double-Blind Proposals.” An Index and a Bibliography are not included.

Highly recommended for both mediators and negotiators.


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,… MORE >


John D. Baker

John D. Baker is Editor of The Negotiator Magazine. MORE >

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