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A Little Humor Broke the Tension in the Room.

July 6, 2015

The tension in the room was palpable.

An hour or more of the mediation had passed.

I had entered the plaintiff’s conference room for a private caucus with the plaintiff and her counsel and I was delivering Defendants’ offer.

I spoke carefully, diplomatically, as I presented the offer.

Even as I was speaking, I could read the reaction on their faces.

They were not happy.

The offer was (still) too low.

An intense conversation ensued.

Finally, after everyone in the room had settled down, plaintiff and her counsel were able to decide on a response that I could take to the other room.

As I got up from the table to go, their faces still grim, I was still concerned about being able to keep this negotiation in motion.

As I was about to leave the room, one of the attorneys noticed and told me,

“You dropped your pen.”

Reflexively, and to make light of the awkward moment, I quipped in reply as I bent down to retrieve the pen:

“Well, at least I didn’t drop my shorts.”

That was all it took.

After the briefest stunned moment of silence, a burst of deep loud hearty laughter enveloped the room, whereupon the tension broke, and the mood in the room eased to such a point that the participants felt comfortable staying and waiting for the other side’s next move (or my next faux pas).

Although I am not usually so funny as it appeared I was that day, I was fortunate that I had developed enough of a rapport in the room that this incident could be so disarming and such a positive turning point in the management of the negotiation.

And I feel good knowing that, in the moment, I had the inner self-confidence, or intuition, to read the room and to improvise such a reply that could so radically redirect the energy of the day.

Maybe it was just luck that the outcome was as good as it was.

Or maybe it was awareness, experience, and being in tune with people.

Whatever it was, I’m really glad I didn’t blow it with my impromptu retort.

David I. Karp is a full time independent mediator of real estate and business disputes in Southern California. His website is: .


From → Mediation

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