Developing one's voice as a mediator can be tricky business. Our personality, empathy, and humor should shine through with our clients...accompanied by a soupcon of acting.  Maintaining neutrality, suppressing your political/religious/personal views, and poker-facing the bizarre can require some serious Stanislavskian chops.


Here are some iconic actors we do not want to emulate, informed by watching lots of movies over the holidays while inhaling my Aunt Barbara's cookies.

Al Pacino. In grad school, I took a class on Thucydides and the Peloponnesian Wars, and the professor showed lots of clips from the do I in our mediation trainings. Al Pacino is a national treasure, and lots of fun to imitate.  But not as a mediator.  Why? He shouts too much. (Hoo-rah! Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in! Say hello to my little friend! Attica! Attica! etc.). As our clients get increasingly agitated, it can be awfully tempting to raise our voices in return (thanks to mirror neurons).  But it can be extremely effective for us to get proportionately calm, lowering our voice as they raise theirs.

Marlon Brando.  An icon, a pioneer, and the poster manchild of method acting.  But he's just too mumbly and rambly for mediation. When asking questions, new mediators often ask long, roundabout, multi-part unto Brando's cryptically meandering monologues in Apocalypse Now and Last Tango in Paris.  Clear, concise, open-ended questions, sans hammy histrionics, is what it's all about.

Robert DeNiro.   NYC's own Bobby D has the true gift of mimicry, and an unparalleled ability to immerse himself in his parts.  In Raging Bull, he transformed himself from a sinewy coil of manmeat into a zaftig slab of tender veal.  We strive to be empathetic, accessible, and relatable to our clients...but should stop short of mimicking their speech patterns or vernacular.  It can come off as insincere pandering. (I've learned this the hard way through my ill-advised attempts to keep up with the kids by using their slang du jour).

Tom Hanks:  With the exception of his portrait in smarm in the under-rated Coen Brothers film The Ladykillers, Tom Hanks is Mr. Nice guy in pretty much everything.  And mediators should be nice. But we should also be vigilant about boundaries, and avoid being too chummy with our clients.  Especially if they are Meg Ryan lookalikes using dial-up to access their AOL accounts in Seattle. Or mermaids.

Jack Nicholson:  In a nutshell, it's not a best practice to give our clients the heebie jeebies. Or wear sunglasses indoors. Eye contact is important.


See you at the movies. Save the middle seat for me.



Views: 188

Comment by John C. Turley on January 3, 2012 at 4:02pm


I have watched the Godfather too many times over the years and I never fail to stop and speak aloud my favorite lines with the proper intonations, inflections, accents and gestures during the marathon showings of the trilogy. I am 1/2 Sicilian Brooklynite which entitles me to connect with my people.  In the Sicilian culture, more is said through a head nod or facial expression by the boss or one's presence and positioning at table than necessarily through the spoken word.  I not only have the great Don in mind, but also Michael as he matures and gains more power.  I am also thinking of a number of Brooklyn characters from whom I learned the value of never saying anything that might be interpreted as "stupid."  This is an "infamnia."

The scene in the bank headquarters with the heads of the crime families brings Don Corleone to the center stage as the quintessential honest broker.  He leads the mediation session between the warring factions as an active participant and not as a neutral facilitator.  Don Corleone is the organizer, coach, strategist and ally with acknowledgement of Professor Mayer as he leads a creative collaborative session in teamwork.  Yes, even the Mafia can find ways to adjust their positions collaboratively as they pursue their needs.

Marlon Brandon as Don Corleone is an excellent listener and an astute observer of people including their non verbal cues. He speaks volumes with the flick of his finger tips along his jaw or a resigned shrug of his shoulders.  He asks the right questions at the appropriate times.  He may appear to mumble;however, the Don speaks precisely and cogently with wisdom and without ambiguity as to his meaning and the intended outcome of his instructions.  It is not so much what he says or how he says it,but what people hear and perceive when he does speak. To paraphrase the Don's assessment of his son, Sonny, "he speaks when he should listen."  Active listening is one of the Don's strongest characteristics which also has its place in mediation and ADR.


Comment by Brad Heckman on January 3, 2012 at 4:06pm

John, you made a point that I couldn't refute!


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