July 01, 2013 Dispute Resolution

Creating Empathy and Understanding in Mediation

Eric B. Galton

"Toilet stalls! If I hear any more discussion about toilet stall dimensions, I will just shut the college down,” the university president snapped at me, the mediator whom the federal judge had foisted on him.

In a way, I could feel for the university president. The federal judge not only had ordered mediation and appointed the mediator but had issued an order specifying that mediation take place for five days, from December 18 to December 23, and requiring the university president, the university comptroller, the university architect, the university engineer, and all 175 students with disabilities who had sued the university to attend the entire mediation. No one would be released from the obligation until the matter settled or the mediator declared an impasse.

I could understand the university president’s perspective: Would three inches in aisle width really make that much difference? On this topic, I had gained some insight of my own.

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