Author: Terry Marschall, MTI Master Practitioner

As a workplace mediator, MTI Master trainer, and avid people watcher, I find myself conscious of conflict in my daily surroundings. Recently, I was able to see the principles of mediation in ‘real time’, or as Dr. Dan Dana refers to as ‘on the line’ mediation, a way to prevent conflict before an actual event occurs. As a bit of background, I live and work from my boat much of the year. This week I am in North Bimini, Bahamas. Mother nature decided to kick up near gale force winds and high waves yesterday, forcing mariners of all vessel size to seek the shelter of the island. Among the boats that came into the harbor are three Bahamian fishing vessels. The storm is untimely for them as this is the last week of lobster season which is the most profitable bounty of the year. Each boat will harvest more than 100,000 lobsters during the season.  Being moored in Bimini harbor instead of filling the hold is not ideal for Captain and crew.

Observations from the Docks

In my people watching I couldn’t help but notice that despite the forced layover, the crews were still happy.  I decided to see if any of the fleet Captains would talk with me about their work and perhaps get better insight into how they lead in this very tough environment. Their mother ships (big boats) are 50 to 60 feet in length and are equipped with large amounts of fishing gear, lobster crates, and vast cold storage for their catch.  Each has a crew of 8-10 fishermen who operate small tender boats to catch the lobster and then return their catch to the big boat in the evening. The big boat serves as home for all the necessities of daily life (sleeping, eating, etc.) for a month at a time while at sea.

After a brief introduction, the Captain of Cortez III, said he was not the one to ask and directed me to a group of men sitting on the dock saying, “They can answer you best as they do the work.” Herman Davis of Moors Island, Abaco, Bahamas, volunteered to chat with me. He explained he is self-employed, as he owns his own workboat and is part of the bigger Cortez III team. “Everybody is in this together. We are family whether related by blood or not.”

As I dug deeper into what life was like for a “lobster guy,” it became evident that Herman Davis is a man who loves his job, family, God, the Bahamas, the ocean, and his fellow co-workers. He is funny, charming and passionate about what he does.  As he spoke, his four “brothers” nodded agreement to his description of life at sea.

Lessons from the Sea

What I learned is that there are days that are good and some that are not when it comes to the daily catch. This resonated with me, as some days in all of our workplaces are good and some days – not so much. Mr. Davis stated that, “Sometimes there is jealousy over how much someone has caught, but they quickly remind one another that tomorrow it will be someone else’s turn to haul in 120 lobsters instead of 20. They may get mad at one another but get over it quickly and tell each other why they are mad. “We may fight today, but we still love each other and don’t hold a grudge. We all have bad days. Sometimes we talk about it and sometimes we know to let it go. If it is important, we talk.” They all have very different personalities but have one goal in common. If one is successful, they are all successful. They respect boundaries, try to understand one another, and talk together about the things that matter.

They respect the Captain of Cortez III, and he respects them. They discuss all business concerns, especially safety, as a group.  Their Captain would never put them or their boats in harm’s way.  He is seen as a good and fair leader and a good listener.They all agree they will stick with him. They are proud that Cortez III always goes out to fish and that some Captains can’t find a crew.

As I left the crew of the Cortez III, it struck me this crew had very effectively woven Dr. Dana’s Preventive Mediation “epiphany” into their daily life at sea. Dr. Dana presented us with the concept that “mediation does not require an event” in his introduction of Preventive Mediation in the second edition of his book “Managing Differences.” Dr. Dana stated that the same underlying psychology that makes Simple Mediation (Third Party resolution) effective, and that makes Self-Mediation effective, could be harnessed and put to work in daily interactions with the important people in our lives.  The Cortez III crew is proof that his theory works.

At MTI we introduce the tools of Preventive Mediation to participants in our Third-Party Resolution and Self-Mediation courses. The concept is simple but not easy. It is a way to make important relationships work. We refer to it as a core-relationship competency and a life skill. Preventive Mediation has four simple rules of engagement that are behaviorally specific.  Dr. Dana refers to these rules as “common courtesies.”

The Four Rules:

  1. Do not walk away (control your distancing reflex)
  2. Do not power play (control your coercion reflex)
  3. Take risks (offer conciliatory gestures)
  4. Do not exploit others’ risks (acknowledge their conciliatory gestures)

If you would like to know more about stopping conflict before it starts in your workplace and weaving Preventive Mediation into your culture, we would welcome the opportunity to tell you more. In the meantime, I am off to see if my new lobster buddies have a few they will share with me.