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Can Compassion Work in Business Mediations?

Have you ever gone to a new dentist, only to find that he is callus and cold? As he reaches into your mouth with a medieval tool in his hand and a snide look of content, do you wonder: How many times must he have done this before he became immune to the human sense of compassion? How could the fact that he is literally ripping a piece of my body out of my mouth occur as routine to him as pouring a glass of milk?

Do you think you would ever go back to that dentist for even the most simplistic and benign procedure? Would you refer a friend to the same dentist? I think not.

Now that we have all winced in pain, you can appreciate the fact that a little compassion would have gone a long way in this situation. Even some small talk or some reassurance that everything would be ok would have made an entirely different atmosphere. Had this occurred, do you think that you would go back to this dentist? Do you think that all though the procedure may have been a bit physically uncomfortable, you would not remember the pain as much as the kind and surprisingly gentle dentist? This in turn would result in repeat customers and referrals for this dentist.

The same can be said in conflict resolution cases. I am sure there are a lot of us that would rather be having a tooth pulled than going through a divorce or a publicly staged law suit. For this exact reason, we must remember to treat each and every mediation as if it were our first. As if it were the first time we saw a tear roll down the cheek of a newly single mother of four. As if it were the very first time that we had sat across the table from an embarrassed defendant in a civil suit.

If we can do this we can become “human” again at the table. Some of you may be saying that you are not in need of this lesson because you are not callus and cold, but think back to the last time you had a scenario that was similar to one of the situations above. Did you speak to the party in “legal jargon” that you take for granted as being universally understood? Did you think over and over again in your head that this person needs to stop rambling so I can catch my tee time? Because if you did, you may not think they could have possibly sensed it, but you were exuding impatience toward a problem that was utterly devastating for them and they could sense it.

I am not saying that you need to be a cream puff at the table, but rather that you should not take for granted the power of compassion. For you it is another day at the office, but for them it may be one of the most traumatic situations they have ever faced. They could either leave your office looking for the first person they see to tell them how much of a jerk you are or looking to tell someone that they could not believe how professional and considerate you were of their situation.

So remember that the next time you’re at the table for another “day at the office” someone else may be there to get a tooth pulled.


Brian Cerny

Brian Cerny is a student at the Werner Institute for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution at Creighton University School of Law. MORE >

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