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Bravado in Mediation

July 18, 2013

Bravado is common in mediation.  The question is whether it is helpful.

I think it is not, but it may be inevitable.

Bravado is defined online by The FreeDictionary at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bravado as the following:

∙    “Defiant or swaggering behavior;”

∙    “A pretense of courage; a false show of bravery;”

∙    “A disposition toward showy defiance or false expressions of courage;”

∙    “vaunted display of courage or self-confidence; swagger;”

∙    “an ostentatious display of courage.”

Merriam Webster also says this at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bravado :

∙    “the quality or state of being foolhardy.”

This is what I see in mediation, all of it, whether it is innate or a strategy.

Sometimes “bluff and bluster” comes from the attorneys.  That is to be expected.  They are advocates after all and feel sometimes that they must make a strong impression for the other side and/or for their clients.

That is their job, and many are very good at it.

Sometimes, the bravado comes from the disputants themselves.

That is both surprising and not surprising, and certainly the greater challenge for the mediator.

I conduct a lot of cross-cultural mediations.  Intuitively, and from experience, I see bravado from disputants here that have cultural roots in other parts of the world.

I know that people from elsewhere think differently and negotiate differently, and bravado is certainly a large component of the process sometimes.

I also think sometimes that bravado comes from defensiveness:  internal feelings of weakness may give rise to outward exaggerated shows of strength, courage, defiance.

I am sure there are other motivations, like anger, insult, or whatever other emotion “pushes someone’s buttons.”

Bravado in mediation gives rise sometimes to outrageous demands and counter demands.

Each side wants to impress the other with the strength of its position (ignoring of course its underlying interests, which may be different).

I refer to this sometimes as “saber rattling.”

Often such displays can stop the negotiation before it starts.

That’s where the mediator comes in, hopefully to help moderate the outrageous demands.

Coaching within the confines of the private caucus helps.

There, the disputant can learn from the mediator, and recognize, that he or she is engaging in a bravado-like behavior (I point it out directly sometimes, as nicely as possible of course).

Once the bravado is consciously or affirmatively recognized, the disputant can then recognize and acknowledge the effect it could have on the other side.

I ask, “what is it that you want from this mediation?”

Then I hear the (sometimes outrageous) demand and ask:

“Do you think that will keep the other side here or send them away?”

Or,

“Do you think that will engage the other side to negotiate?”

Or,

“What do you think will be the reaction in the other room to such a demand?”

Or

“How do you justify that demand?”

Or …. (there are so many other questions).

It is the recognition by the disputant – that bravado, whether culturally ingrained or emotionally driven, often really does not work well – that is key to helping the process to move forward to concession, compromise, reconciliation and peace.

And sometimes it really works to move the process forward.

But it is not an easy task:  we can see from television that bravado on the world stage, and even in domestic politics, often does not bring peace, compromise or agreement, at least not right away.

***

David I. Karp is a full time mediator of real estate and business disputes in Southern California.  His business website is at http://karpmediation.com .

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