John Sturrock: Nelson Mandela, master of mediation

John Sturrock
John Sturrock
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In just a couple of weeks, more than 120 mediators from all over the world will arrive in Edinburgh for the annual conference of the International Academy of Mediators. This is a wonderful occasion and a great opportunity for Scotland. Mediation in the mainstream? Quite a thought.

The star turn will be William Ury of Harvard University, famed for Getting to Yes.

Nelson Mandela is led by his wife, Winnie Mandela, who gives a black power salute, after his release from Victor Verster prison in Cape Town, South Africa, Sunday, Feb. 11, 1990.  The leader of the African National Congress served over 27 years in jail.  (AP Photo/Greg English)

Nelson Mandela is led by his wife, Winnie Mandela, who gives a black power salute, after his release from Victor Verster prison in Cape Town, South Africa, Sunday, Feb. 11, 1990. The leader of the African National Congress served over 27 years in jail. (AP Photo/Greg English)

He is currently working on trying to find peaceful ways to resolve the North Korean crisis. Ury, who will receive an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh while he is here, will discuss North Korea and his other global negotiation and mediation work at a special Master Class on Monday 14 May.

It is also a real pleasure to announce that he will address the Chamber of the Scottish Parliament on the morning of Saturday 12 May, with a contribution from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that morning also. The theme will be “Common Good Politics.”

An exponent par excellence of common good politics was Nelson Mandela. We are familiar with his story and journey from the hard and violent days of the 1960s to the remarkable and peaceful transition in South Africa in the 1990s under his unique leadership. Mandela’s leadership has been brought together brilliantly in a book by his biographer, Richard Stengel, entitled Mandela’s Way. I refer to it regularly and Richard Branson has described it as one of the best books he has read.

Mandela learned about patience, calmness, working with the enemy, ambiguity, shades of grey, fear, courage, seeing the good in others (however they had behaved), keeping your rivals close, the long game, how and when to say no, and when to quit.

Now, an award-winning article captures “Nelson Mandela as Negotiator”. The article considers how “the greatest negotiator of the twentieth century” approached negotiating the unbanning of the African National Congress, the dismantling of apartheid, and his own freedom after 27 years of imprisonment.

He employed classically good negotiation practices in the face of intense and violent opposition while confined in prison for life. The author asks: if Mandela could be successful, why cannot lawyers (and others) succeed when facing less daunting disputes?

The article focuses on the period starting in 1985, when Mandela refused an offer to be released if he would condemn violence, until 1990, when South African President FW de Klerk gave his historic unbanning speech, Mandela was freed, and he gave his first address as a free man.

Why mention this here? Well, the author of the article, Professor Hal Abramson of Touro Law Centre in New York, is another of our guests at the International Academy of Mediators conference in May.

On Wednesday 9 May, Abramson will be giving a (free) public lecture on “Nelson Mandela as Negotiator: What can we Learn?”, hosted by the University of Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation.

Abramson is currently teaching negotiation at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. He served as the first Scholar-in-Residence for the International Academy of Mediators and, for his contributions to the field of dispute resolution, he received the 2013 Peace Builder Award from the New York State Dispute Resolution Association.

His publications include the leading treatise on representing clients in mediation entitled Mediation Representation – Advocating as a Problem Solver. Abramson is really tuned into the needs of the legal profession as 
problem-solvers and offers an insightful, pithy and worthwhile contribution to our thinking.

All of this points to another great opportunity for those of us in Scotland, who engage day to day in serving clients who have difficult situations, to learn more about what we do and how we do it. Not to be missed? Or, for those familiar with the jargon: What is your Batate(Best Alternative To Attending This Event)?

John Sturrock is Chief Executive and Senior Mediator, Core Solutions. More details of the events mentioned in the article can be found on Core’s website: www.core-solutions.com