Perspectives from a Mediator/Arbitrator

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The first day of Spring and Mistakes about fact

Well - we made it through another Winter with Spring coming to us on March 20 this year. I made the mistake of announcing to my children on March 21 that it was the first day of Spring only to be corrected by my son that "yesterday was the first day of Spring". Well, I think it is important as a mediator or an arbitrator to admit and acknowledge when I make a mistake about a fact. I know that my son follows the changing of the season much more closely than I do, so I was pretty certain that he was right. I told the story of getting the date wrong to a couple of people and they all said that Spring came a day earlier than normal this year. Having established from a couple of sources that I was indeed incorrect about the first day of Spring, I have accepted the fact that I was simply wrong about my fact.

Being wrong can mean very different things for a mediator than it means for an arbitrator. If I get a fact wrong during a mediation (and of course it has happened), I can be corrected and I can move on. I can not immediately remember a situation where getting a fact wrong in a mediation has ultimately had any impact on the outcome of the mediation. It has certainly caused a problem here or there but as I accept that I can make a mistake - when it is pointed out I will accept it and move on to fix any problem that may have been created by my mistaken knowledge. Once doing so, I can work to get the process back on track toward resolution.

When I work as an arbitrator, being mistaken about a fact can have much more serious consequences. If I can determine my mistake before I write the decision, I can be corrected. That is part of the reason that I like to "where and when possible" engage the parties in what I am thinking as the case proceeds. I think it helps them to know what I am thinking but it also has a secondary role of making sure in my analysis that I am either not missing something or proceeding on the basis of a mistaken fact. If I do not find out about my mistake until after the decision is written and sent out - there is nothing I can do about it at all at that point.

I was wrong about which day was the start of Spring! When I found out - I acknowledged it. I am going to be really careful before I make any pronouncements to my children about the commencement of Summer.


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