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Friday, March 14, 2014

How to Win Friends and Influence People in Mediation: Part One

Dale Carnegie’s best-seller How to Win Friends & Influence People, first published in 1937, is still the go-to book for people looking to improve their social and emotional intelligence. Since I’m interested in these topics, I thought it might be a good idea to become familiar with what Mr. Carnegie had written on the subject.

While paging through the chapters, I realized that many of the same principles enunciated by Carnegie apply equally to the mediation field. I found the first three sections of the book to be most useful. For this blog article, I am concentrating on the first section, called “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People.” I’ve listed the principles of Part One of the book below, with a few comments of my own on applying each section to the mediation field:

Part One: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People:

  1. Don’t Criticize, Condemn or Complain
Carnegie says that criticism usually backfires, since it makes people (that’s you and me) resentful and feel belittled. Once belittled, a person is not likely to want to work with you. Instead, try to understand what is behind the behavior that you are critical of, and to fix that problem instead.

Application to Mediation – Attack the problem, not the person. This means that while a problem with an individual may have brought you to the mediation table, it is not fruitful to criticize the other party personally or his/her comments or behavior. Instead, focus on the problem itself, and try to understand what caused a party to react in a certain way.

  1. Give Honest, Sincere, Appreciation
One of our deepest desires is the need to feel important. People crave sincere appreciation since they so rarely get it. If you want to improve someone’s behavior, find one thing that person does well and compliment him or her on it, especially in earshot of others. You needn’t be dramatic; make sure the compliment is sincere rather than simple flattery.
Application to Mediation – This advice is as helpful to the mediator as to the parties. The mediator should try to find ways to give a compliment to each of the parties, either by highlighting when a party says something positive about another party, by recognizing a party’s decision to share some information that might have been particularly difficult for that person to share, or by actively encouraging the parties to speak about the things that went right with the relationship before it went sour.

  1. Arouse in the other person an eager want
Figure out what the customer wants or needs, and then show him or her how your services can be used to satisfy the goals. Carnegie gave the example of using the proper bait – a fish would not be attracted to a fresh, luscious strawberry, but it would gobble down a worm.

Application to Mediation – Differentiate between a party’s positions and interests and provide a reality check. A person’s position might appear to be that she won’t settle unless she gets “X” dollars, often fueled by unrealistic expectations. But a secondary interest may be to move forward and put this dispute behind her. As a mediator, you can help the party see that she might not have a “slam-dunk” case after all and that there are other alternatives which parties can create for themselves. Mediation gives parties an opportunity to find their own solution to the problem. Once parties realize the benefit of this process, they are likely to want to use it again.
In future blog articles, I’ll tackle the other sections of Dale Carnegie’s book, including “Six Ways to Make People Like You,” and “How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking.”

If you have any questions about this article or about mediation or arbitration, feel free to contact me at

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