Keeping the Process Going

Edward Howden

Former CRS Mediator, San Francisco Office

[Full Interview]

Question: What you did to reduce tensions when they are high? Did you ever run into a situation in mediation where things got really tense and you needed to calm them down?

Answer: Sometimes. I was usually able to moderate the situation without any heavy handedness. Once in a while a certain decisiveness, maybe even standing up and speaking very loudly, was necessary. That was rare, but I can recall a couple of occasions where that, in my judgment, became necessary.

One was a business mediation, which was kind of unusual for us to do, but a minority sub-contractor was one of the parties on a big housing development that had been ninety-seven percent completed. It was a middle income development, and there was an impasse between this sub-contractor who had some minor finishing work to do and the general contractor who was not minority. They had some bad blood on various things, various past hassles, and now they were right at impasse. As I recall, somebody from HUD called us. HUD was involved in some aspects of the financing and everybody wanted to see the project finished since housing was a desperate need. The attorneys for the two parties actually were willing to have us give them a hand.

One of the attorneys handled arrangements and they were willing to move fast, like tomorrow. I had no chance to study the issue. They were so anxious to get to it, I think it was the attorney for the minority sub-contractor, that he arranged the meeting room in a major hotel-- normally I would be doing that. Anyhow, we got into that session quickly. The minority sub-contractor, the main person, didn't have a bonding capacity or something, he had some kind of a problem financially, and he had brought in this guy from New York to help him. We went through the regular opening routine and I explained to these folks, "look, you all understand that I'm not expert in the contracting business and I've had no chance to study up on this as there's been no time. You're in a hurry, so you're going to have to educate me as we go along, and I may have a lot of questions." They agreed, and we got going.

We got fairly well into it but then an impasse developed and people got angry. A gentleman representing the minority sub-contractor who was six foot three and big strong guy, said angrily, "I'm not going to take any more of this, you know," and accused the general contractor of insulting him. "I'm not going to take any of this, this is a waste of time" and he stood up to walk out. So I'm at the end of the table and I stood up and said, "Dammit, Mr..., you agreed to the approach we were going to take to this, and we are following that approach and I think we can make it, so please sit down."

He paused a moment, and then he sat down. And we got on with it. By the end of the day we had a deal. As a matter of fact, Mr... was so happy with the deal, he invited everybody down to a bar at this famous hotel and bought us a round of drinks.