Lessons from the Father of Alternative Dispute Resolution
By Marty Latz*
Sunday, September 30, 2018
My Harvard Law School professor and mentor Frank Sander recently passed away after a long and brilliant career in the dispute resolution field. A co-founder of the Harvard Program on Negotiation in 1979, many of us learned an enormous amount from Sander the scholar and Sander the person.
Here are a few of our lessons learned, applicable to negotiations and to life.
1. Be Nice and Treat Everyone with Respect
My abiding memory of Frank relates to his fundamental kindness and the respect with which he treated everyone. A long-time leader and giant in the field of dispute resolution by the time I met him in 1990 – he was regarded as the father of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) - he genuinely cared about his students and always had time to help.
I specifically remember his help on a draft of my first book – Gain the Edge! Negotiating To Get What You Want. His insights were invaluable, and he spent a lot of time reviewing my 378-page book. He didn’t need to do this, as I had long since graduated. But he did.
What does this have to do with negotiation? Social psychologist Robert Cialdini in his bestseller Influence: Science and Practice notes that people are more likely to share crucial information in negotiations with those they like versus those they dislike. He calls this the Liking Principle.
How do we determine who to like and how to get others to like us? In part due to how they treat us. It pays to be nice, respectful, sincere, etc.
Cialdini also discusses the Reciprocity Principle – the notion that we try to repay what others provide to us. Sander was always extremely generous with his time and advice. I am sure this was paid back many times over. Not because it was owed. But because it was the right thing to do.
2. Creativity and Out-of-the-Box Thinking Improve Results
Negotiators that bring creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to the table often achieve great results. And one of Frank’s most abiding legacies will be his then-novel and creative idea that certain types of litigation – once they enter the courthouse – should be directed to mediation for a more effective resolution.
Here’s how his vision is described on www.FrankSander.com:
"He was struck by the long waiting time for many court cases and the hardship that this imposed on families with lesser means. Frank had a vision for how to rethink the way that people settle disputes and how to “fit the forum to the fuss.” Frank’s thinking has had impact not only in this country (with increase in mediation and arbitration and rise of neighborhood justice centers) but across the world."
Millions have benefited from his ability to think creatively of how to better resolve difficult disputes.
3. Take Advantage of the Right Opportunities – Timing and Hard Work Matters
Frank Sander and his family barely escaped Nazi Germany in 1938. Frank, age 11, knew no English at the time. He learned it and succeeded, though, in part through diligence and hard work. In fact, he kept a notebook of every English word he heard that he didn’t know and maintained this notebook his entire life.
Importantly, he wasn’t handed his opportunities. Instead, he took advantage of those that presented themselves. In fact, he had no scholarly expertise in dispute resolution when he was asked to present on it at a conference. So he researched it and presented one.
This happened next, according to Frank.
“It was a classic example of being in the right place at the right time. One of the people who commented on my paper was Griffin Bell who was a federal judge and became Attorney General of the U.S. under President Carter. Griffin Bell set up a division of the Department of Justice called the Office for Improvements in the Administration of Justice.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Negotiators must also recognize that fortuity and timing sometimes offer them unique opportunities. But they must also make something of it with hard work, diligence and perseverance. Frank did.
We will miss you, Frank. R.I.P.
Latz’s Lesson: Be nice, creative and take advantage of unexpected opportunities. Frank Sander did – and we all benefited from it.
* Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training, e-learning and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Marty@LatzNegotiation.com.
The photo of Frank Sander teaching at Harvard was produced by By Melanie82918 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72133128