During a mediation recently in Oakland, CA I was dealing with some “challenging” personalities. One party pointedly refused to shake my hand. He acted like he knew that in my unspoken heart I was biased against him and looking to manipulate the process so he would get screwed. His demeanor and words crossed the line and if I was thinner skinned, I would have been insulted. I could not help but think of one of my favorite quotes when trying to rise above a person who is purposely being difficult. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better”.
Truthfully, the theme of this article started out as an attempt to contrast and compare Lincoln’s thoughtful attempt to illustrate how one should strive to approach obstreperous conduct with what I had thought was the naïve and implausible quote from the western homeboy philosopher Will Rogers, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Yeah right, I can think of a few people I could introduce to him to test that sentiment.
I was all set to have this article rhetorically ask Mr. Rogers, “Really Will…you NEVER met a man you didn’t like. Really?” I was going to go on and on about how the world, or people, must have changed. How the SOB to good guy ratio has gone up over the years yadda, yadda, yadda. And then I did a bit of research and found the true Rogers’ quote. The famous phrase is actually a portion of a longer quote from when Mr. Rogers was referring to Leon Trotsky,
“I bet you if I had met him and had a chat with him, I would have found him a very interesting and human fellow, for I never yet met a man that I dident (sic) like. When you meet people, no matter what opinion you might have formed about them beforehand, why, after you meet them and see their angle and their personality, why, you can see a lot of good in all of them.”
Interesting. Will Rodgers was saying essentially the same thing that Abraham Lincoln said 70 years earlier. Even people who you don’t think you like, after you get to know them and try and see things from their point of view, you find that they are, like yourself, only human. And like all humans there is good in all of them. This is a lesson well known to any experienced mediator.
Even when dealing with people who are obviously trying to sabotage and thwart the mediation process, if you are patient and take the time to listen to their side and see the merits of their position, you see the superior side of them. You are then better situated to work with them to forge a path out of their dilemma and into settlement.
In point of fact, in the mediation I reference above, after many hours of hard work the fellow who was trying to get my goat and I actually got to know each other and by the end of a long day we had successfully managed the business dispute that brought him to my offices. I am pleased to report that he has since referred several of his colleagues to Liaise® Mediated Solutions, LLC.