Don’t “Walk on By”
The Masters golf tournament with its annual hoopla and green jacket just concluded. I admit it. I am NOT a golf fan. Perhaps I am missing the “golf gene” as I find watching golf dreadfully boring (playing golf is no treat either, but that is more due to a chronic slice). With the Masters, however, I came across a human interest story related to one golfer which intrigued me. This story involved the most personable professional golfer of all time.
Who is the most personable golfer? “Lefty” Phil Mickelson with his legions of fans? The Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus? Relative newcomers Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth? Party boy John Daly? Showman Lee Trevino? All good choices, but not even close. Arnold Palmer was above and beyond them all. He had his own Army. Arny’s Army would follow Palmer on his battles on each golf course while they adored him.
What separated Arnold Palmer from all other amazingly successful and likable golfers? When younger golfers sought career advice from Palmer, he would not remark on putting stances or club grips. Palmer stressed the importance of positive relations with people. As to the Army of fans, Palmer stated “Never walk by anyone. No one likes to feel like they are invisible, and don’t matter.”
This advice, from the golfer who had an entire Army of fans following him on every golf course. Take the time to acknowledge people. Take the simple step to let them know that they are seen. Appreciate these folks. Palmer understood that if these few moments or even minutes were not taken, then these fans would feel unimportant. And what are fans other than fellow human beings. Arny’s Army did not amass elsewhere and march out to Palmer. It grew one person at a time, and Palmer tried to acknowledge each one of them along the journey.
Based on my own golf course experiences, I understand what Palmer sought to accomplish. When we were 13 and 14 years old, a buddy and I caddied at an exclusive private golf club. Admittedly, we did so in order to be able to hack around on Caddy Day once a week. Always on the first hole for each loop, the golfers would dutifully ask our names and inquire where we went to school. For the next 17 holes, it would be “Caddy, get the flag”, “Caddy, how many yards to the green?”, Caddy, . . .”, “Caddy, . . .”. The golfers would not remember our names by the second hole. We were invisible, unless, of course, we messed up.
In mediation, we can learn well from Arnold Palmer’s advice. “Never walk by anyone” easily translates to never summarily dismiss adversaries or their positions. If parties are advancing particular facts, issues or arguments, they are usually doing so with genuine intent to move the process forward and not merely to waste everyone’s time.
As a mediator, I often hear parties immediately react in declaring an adversaries’ position as irrelevant or stating that a position will not even be considered. As a practitioner, be careful not to let the positions being advanced to walk right past you.
Mediation participants advance positions for numerous reasons. One side could fully appreciate that an opponent will reject a certain version of events. Yet, these points are still stressed to remind all that, like them or not, these facts will be presented to a judge and jury. Alternatively, the points are stressed to illustrate that the proponent is fully prepared to proceed with a solid grasp on the facts of record. Or, these points are stressed to show that summary judgment or other dispositive relief will not be available to the adverse party.
Fair consideration of any or all of these reasons should spur any party to more carefully evaluate the risk and jeopardy of proceeding with litigation. I am not suggesting that agreement needs to be reached on merits of arguments. I am not even suggesting that arguments and positions need to be accepted. Rather, attempt to understand why positions are being advanced. Listen for any messages or clues being conveyed in points presented.
When I served as the party representative in so many mediations, I found it fairly easy to come up with the next point, argument, position or offer to advance. However, I found it more challenging to correctly “message” the point being made. If I could get the mediator to pass along a particular message together with the position, I could better ensure that my points would not be “invisible, and didn’t matter” to the other side. I sought to force consideration of the points I presented and not allow an adversary to merely walk by my position.
As a practitioner, use messaging with offers in mediation. As importantly, use the mediator in this process. The mediator best understands the dynamics in each room. Solicit input from the mediator on particular proposed messages and how they will be received. In some instances, the message may need not be anything more than:
“I see your point” (You are not invisible)
“We understand and have carefully considered your argument” (We did not walk by you).
You will not end up with your own army of fans. Nonetheless, you can better ensure that your points and positions will receive proper consideration. With this process, you will more readily learn more about your adversaries’ positions and better direct the negotiations. In that way, your mediation has a better chance of success and you can make Arnold Palmer proud.
P.S. Apologies to Dionne Warwick for borrowing her song as the title to this article. Warwick still performed the best (and original) version of Walk on By in 1964. Since then, at least 62 versions have been recorded by a variety of artists.