Today is Groundhog Day -- one of my two favorite rodent-based holidays.  And according to both Punxatauney Phil and Staten Island Chuck, spring is afoot toute suite.

Groundhog Day -- both the holiday and the Bill Murray movie -- remind me of mediation. (Most things do.)  Here's how:

1. In the movie, Bill Murray re-lives the same day over and over and over until he gets it right and gets the girl.  We learn mediation as a linear process, in which we keep it conversational, but follow a set of stages.  Within the structure, there's lots of room for do-overs.  We can backtrack, gather more information, or try a different angle in order to help parties express their needs. We're not so locked into the process stages. We like to say that mediation is a forgiving process.

2. I'm not saying the groundhog us ugly, but let's face it, it's not among your more glamorous varmints.  I'm mean, it's no nutria -- for my money, the most horrifying of rodents.  (We're talking a dog-sized rat, with the pink fleshy tail and everything.)  But the groundhog sure doesn't have the charisma and squee factor of your bunny rabbit.  Mediators are often at their best when they're humble and unassuming. We can blend into the scenery a bit -- it's not about us.  All those years in the spotlight, and Phil somehow keeps his ego in check. (Chuck's a bit more of a diva).

3. Phil is a curious little guy. Will I cast a shadow or not? Who knows.  But I'll check it out!  Curiosity is the hallmark of a good mediator.  We're all about asking open-ended questions so that parties can get a three-dimensional understanding of their needs and interests. We do the opposite of the lawerly "only ask questions to which you know the answer" thing.

4. Groundhogs are not known for their keen intellect -- and mediators needn't be the smartest guy in the room, either.  I wrote here about how the dumb mediator technique can be an effective tool for getting folks talking and building understanding.

5. Moreover, Phil usually gets it wrong...he's at about a 30% accuracy rate, well below the Roker threshold.  A great thing about mediation is that we get to see parties defy our expectations, our assumptions, our stereotypes.  We have the honor of bearing witness to the beautiful complexity of our fellow humans...and we help catalyze understanding, agreement, reconciliation and healing.

Happy G-day, folks, and let's hope Phil and Chuck get it right this time.  I'm freaking freezing over here.


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Comment by Noam Ebner on February 4, 2013 at 3:16pm

A few years ago I read a great article by Robert Robinson about Groundhog Day (the movie) and negotiation teaching - we try to pull of the same magic again and again, but you can never teach the same class twice. Holds true for training, holds true of mediating. Food for thought. 


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