A Satisfied Client

Mediators don't often receive feedback because clients (both parties and lawyers) are extremely worn out at the end of a long session. Even when we request for feedback post mediation, not many clients respond. Hence, it is with great delight that a recent client (Mr Ronnie Tan of Central Chambers LLC) responded generously to my request for a recommendation to the International Mediation Institution. He also graciously allowed me to reproduce his testimonial here. I mediated this half million commercial dispute as a Principal Mediator for the Singapore Mediation Center. I would like to add that parties in dispute not only benefit from professional mediators, they need the support and counsel of lawyers who truly endeavour to act in the interests of their clients. The success of amicable and sensible resolutions to disputes will be impeded if lawyers were out to milk their clients, teach them to posture and cajole them to trial unnecessarily. We look forward to making referrals to lawyers who are effective and sincere mediation advocates. Ronnie Central Chambers Testimonial  

Talk to Community Mediators

Dr. David Shimoni, our Israeli affiliate from Goshrim, presented a talk to community mediators last evening. David is not only an experienced mediator in commercial, family and family business disputes, he is also a preferred trainer for the professional court mediators in Israel. IMG_9868   The talk was well attended and there was a lively Q&A after his presentation. Mediators were intrigued by the tensions he highlighted between traditional and modern mediators, and asked for examples of hybrid model of community mediation that worked in a complex, diverse and volatile society like Israel. IMG_9867   This year, the Jews' holiest holiday "Yom Kippur", a day of fasting and atonement, coincided with the Muslim's "Eid al adha", the holiday of the sacrifice which is a day of joy, feasts and family fun. The fact that the two holidays are on the same day is a cause of concern in their mixed cities because each religion's habits can offend the other religion. See this video where David shared how the Israeli community mediators handle potential racial conflicts at a national level. IMG_9811 (You can also view the short clip made by the community mediators to reduce tension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqXVTsq5d00&feature=youtu.be) IMG_9869   We hope that the Singapore community mediators enjoyed meeting David as much as he enjoyed meeting them!  

One Mediator’s Musings on GE2015

Disclaimer: This article reflects only my point of view and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the mediators on the HMG panel. This General Elections 2015 was a fiercely contested fight. Aside from the merits and value propositions of the political parties, I was more often than not, fascinated by the negotiation / conflict management styles by party supporters to win votes for their camps. As a mediator, I often find myself having a front seat to human nature. This GE2015 felt all too familiar albeit at a national level - heated tussles between party supporters posturing demands and threatening consequences, with battle lines drawn accompanied by a display of raw emotions on all sides. There are of course, those who attempt to facilitate constructive discussions by exploring and developing points of views held by opposing party supporters. More often than not however, robust discussions can be easily dampened by vitriol or debasing remarks targeted at individual politicians / parties. In the zeal to persuade a friend or colleague to see your point of view, political discussions over a casual coffee can degenerate into a serious undermining of the worldview and value system of the person who disagrees with you. I have seen more than a few relationships grow cold during and after the heat of elections. As a young nation, I believe how we conduct our political discussions at a micro level (both interpersonal and inter-organizational) reflect the maturity of our electorate. This in turn, will determine if we can work collaboratively and enhance the quality of our macro policy discussions Taking a leaf from the playbooks of seasoned negotiators and mediators, I would like to highlight the following best practices that I personally hope to see more of in the political arena: 1. We must continue to  encourage one another to clearly identify and continuously articulate each other's interests and motivations, not merely assert our own positions / demands. We should discuss points of contention but wherever possible, look for common interests to focus on, no matter how small. Efforts worth highlighting include thoughtfully facilitated discussions organized by Inconvenient Questions, as well as The Thought Collective's DMZ Dinners.  In my opinion, these neutral platforms encourage robust but constructive discussions, and go a long way in building up positive active citizenry. 2. More than merely an intellectual discussion, politicians and citizens alike need to earn the right to speak, by first seeking to understand. This requires parties to listen well, constantly summarize and reframe to ensure that we have heard the other person correctly, and sincerely emphathise with the sentiment even if not the substance. Too often in political discussions, I observe people speaking "at each other", where when one person is speaking, the other is not so much listening, as he is formulating another line of thought in his head. How often have we heard the retort "That is not true!", before that same person launches into a defensive presentation of his or her own collected data. Such discussions are usually counterproductive, as confirmation bias suggests that we have a tendency to be selectively read what we already choose to believe. Active and informed citizens must seek to listen and understand, develop the capacity to withhold defensive retorts, form a thoughtful and considered opinion, whilst respecting multiple perspectives of truths. The effort to seek to examine each other's perspectives of truth, would help us climb up and down "The Ladder of Inference" with humility (a subject I wrote about during the Little India Riots 2 years ago), and focus on developing creative solutions to meet multiple complex interests. 3.  Effective communicators understand that persuasive messages must not only convince the mind (cognitive), it must also hit the heart (affective), and most importantly, result in a desired action (conative). National policies in party manifestos must not only make socio-economic sense, they must be carried by politicians whom people feel affection and affiliation towards, and are willing  to take a risk by placing their vote of confidence in. This is where the election tactics, and strengths and weaknesses of a long-term relationship is best reflected. Many commentators (summarised by The Middle Ground here) have analysed specific contexts relating to the wins and losses, and I would add that the increasingly sophisticated Singapore voter will require all 3 aspects to be adequately addressed. 4. Where we disagree, make an analysis of what exactly the source of conflict is and address it accurately. Broadly speaking, sources of conflicts can be categorized into 1) data conflicts,  structural conflicts,  3) perceived incompatible interests (my gain must be your loss), values conflicts and  5) relational conflicts (Christopher Moore, 1996). It is my observation that when conflict arises, people argue without sufficient understanding of what the source of conflict really is. Hence, they argue at cross-tangents and are not able to collaboratively brainstorm on solutions.  For example, a structural conflict arising from insufficient time to make a considered decision, can sometimes be misinterpreted as a values conflict where one accuses another of being high-handed and valuing one priority over another. A data conflict where folks have incomplete information to form an informed opinion, can be made good without undermining the other's experiences, intelligence, integrity or value system. Naturally, if the conflict is a relational one where trust had broken down over a long period of time, then the solution must be to rebuild the relationship. No amount of hard facts can resolve a relational conflict. It is heuristically easier when faced with massive amount of information and opinion to attribute disagreement to personality differences.  It is my opinion that great pains must be taken to differentiate the sources of disagreements and address them with due concern and versatility. It seems unlikely that one-size-fits-all messaging  will convince the sophisticated voter. 5. Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional. Particularly in deeply heated political discussions where one is likely to infringe on values, always be prepared to "agree to disagree". Pick your battles according to person and context. Unless a higher principle is at stake that would justify the costs of adopting a competitive stance, it is often wiser to protect the relationship with grace, walk away with dignity and continue the discussion another day. This is of course easier said than done, and requires acute self-awareness and personal mastery. All that I have said above is always easier when we are neutral facilitators and can afford to be detached from the conflict. As a Singaporean, I am as vested as the next person and am just as liable to be emotionally embroiled and overly critical. Nonetheless, it remains my desire that Singaporeans seek first to see the good in each other's points of views. As DPM Tharman said in what I consider to be a conciliatory tone, "Singapore... has to remain a society with diverse voices and views, not just during elections... We will take views from the opposition, we will take views from civil society, we will take views from people from different walks of life...Everyone will be included in the way we go forward, and everyone must feel included in the way we go forward. This includes online and social media, which play an important role in shaping opinion, and should continue to do so as constructively as possible." ('Post GE: Opposition can continue to contribute to Singapore', Straits Times, 14 September 2015) Whilst a healthy dose of competition and robust debate is at times necessary to polish ONE idea, distributive bargaining and a win-lose mindset will inhibit the flourishing of MANY ideas. I look forward to that perfect harmony of voices that will in time, make beautiful music for our nation. Ms Linda Heng

HMG is 2 years old!

In view of the rapidly developing mediation landscape, HMG was set up 2 years ago by a group of passionate and professional mediators. There have been challenges, but it has also been a fruitful time for us to get a sense of who we are as a professional service company and how we might better engage stakeholders in amicable dispute resolution. The next few months will be exciting as we embark on more long-term plans to collaborate with industry leaders, lawyers, authorities, estbalished mediation institutions both locally and regionally. We look forward to putting our plans into motion in the years ahead. It is also with great pleasure that we take the occasion of our second anniversary to welcome 3 more mediators to our mediation experts panel. They are Mrs Michelle Woodworth, Mr Alvin Cheng and Ms Shanti Abraham. They bring with them much mediation expertise in commercial, family, medical-legal disputes, and a wealth of training experience both locally and overseas. HMG mediators are dedicated to minimising the costs of conflict, and promoting peace and harmony in unpleasant situations. We have mediated disputes where litigation fees are avoided, and in some cases relationships were reconciled. We know that in the right hands and mediation is attempted early, all manners of conflicts can be better managed and even resolved amicably. As Mr Bradford A. Berenson (General Electric's Vice-President of Litigation and Legal Policy) said at the Singapore Mediation Lecture 2014,  "... rather than viewing mediation as a risk, I will argue that NOT mediating is riskier."  What more can we say, but that we have said for the past 2 years?

 Minimise the costs of conflict. Mediate first with Harmony Mediation Group. 

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HMG on ST Forum “Mediation services vital as society evolves”

"As a professional mediator, I have observed that when people are in a dispute, they are quick to hire the best lawyer they can afford. But if they reach a point of settling disputes amicably, they will then look for the cheapest mediation services around. The best mediation services cost only a fraction of the litigation fees people in a dispute would otherwise incur." Linda Heng Managing Director, Harmony Mediation Group - See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/forum-letters/story/mediation-services-vital-society-evolves-20150521#sthash.ViYUOg9D.dpuf

HMG in Israel

I paid a visit to Israel last week and had the pleasure of not only meeting local court and community mediators, but also Nobel Peace Pize recipient Mr. Shimon Peres  (9th President of the State of Israel). I was first hosted warmly by our overseas affiliate David and Yael of Goshrim, a private mediation company (lower picture from left: Yael, David, Gali, Orat). IMG_3262 Orat is an appointed "Mahut mediator" - court referred highly skilled mediators who are have been able to make mediation a full-time profession. See articles on Mahut mediators here and here. We shared with each other our experiences and compared mediation culture, practices and business models between Singapore, Israel and other countries. It was interesting to note that despite geographical distances and business cultures / practices, the private mediation community shared many similarities and challenges. These include educating the public about choosing to resolve disputes amicably first, and the development of mediation as a recognised profession. David summarised the discussion succinctly, "It is our common vision, for the betterment of society, that mediation will become mainstream. And the 'alternative' in ADR (alternative dispute resolution) will eventually be litigation."  We then paid a visit to the city of Lod, one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Israel. At the Lod Community Mediation Centre, I met a team of passionate community mediators who impressed me with their commitment to peacemaking (From right: Noah and Oshrit). The signage for opening hours at the centre are written in Hebrew, Arabic, Ethiopian and Russian, reflecting the ethnicity in the city of about 75,000 residents (see picture below). Noah the Manager, had this to say: “Here, at the Lod Community Mediation Center (CMC), we focus more on consensus building than arriving at settlement agreements. In such a diverse community where people are so poor and live so closely together, there are so many things that can spark off conflicts.

I teach my students NOT to provide them with solutions but to teach them the skills and competencies from the mediator’s toolbox, to speak the mediator’s language. They need to learn how to ask about each other’s culture, religion and interests, and learn to put themselves in each other’s position. They have to come up with their own solutions, because there will be many disagreements, they have to mediate amongst themselves.

For example last year, the most holy day for the Jews and Muslims not only fall on the same day, but 2 years running. The Jews commemorate this holy day by fasting and meditating quietly. People don’t even drive, not talk much, everything comes to a standstill. For the Muslims, their holy day is a day of rejoicing in song and dance, as much noise as possible! How do they co-exist harmoniously? We keep reminding people that each side is just keeping to their own religions and customs; they’re not trying to offend the other side. With the help of police, there were no major incidences last year. We’re hoping for peace again this year"

IMG_3265When I expressed the desire to meet with an Arab member of the community, David immediately rang up another former student of his, an Arab community mediator and manager at the local community centre. There, I had the opportunity to meet with Eyal one of the producers of the documentary "Lod - between hope and despair" (now into its second season), and Fatten who is an active mediator between the Jews and Arabs in the city. It was clear in the short discussion, how these community mediators navigate complex racial and religious issues with skill, sensitivity and much patience.   IMG_3173 Israel is no stranger to a wide range of complex conflicts. Another Israeli friend arranged for me to sit in a short meeting with  one of Israel's 2 Nobel Peace Prize Winners, Mr. Shimon Peres, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs during the historic signing of the Oslo Accords in 1995. We met at his office at the Peres Peace House in Jaffa, where Mr. Peres kindly shared his optimism amidst the reality of international politics: “Right wing politics… left wing politics… you need both wings to fly! After much effort, we were able to make peace with the Egyptians and the Jordanians. There is no reason why we cannot make peace with the Palestinians. But there is much work to do. And it must start from the ground.” IMG_3168 It was my honour to meet Mr. Peres and I took advantage of the rare opportunity to present him a copy of the "Mediation in Singapore - A Practical Guide". While our footsteps are small in the shadow of so many peacemakers around the world, HMG hopes to contribute in whatever manner possible in Singapore and beyond.

Linda Heng

HMG’s Contributions to book on “Mediation in Singapore”

HMG is proud to have contributed 2 chapters to a book on "Mediation in Singapore - A Practical Guide", published by Sweet and Maxwell, and was co-launched by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at the State Courts yesterday. See media report here and State Court's media release here. In his speech, CJ described the book as one that not only traces the growth of mediation, but also the maturation of the mediation movement in Singapore. HMG is proud to be amongst such a a distinguished group of judges, mediation practitioners and lawyers. We are delighted to have contributed to the mediation efforts in Singapore and will continue to endeavour to assist our clients to resolve disputes amicably, efficiently and effectively in every difficult situation they find themselves in. IMG_2992 HMG MD Ms Linda Heng (second from left) contributed a chapter on "Psychology and the Interest-Based Model of Mediation". In it, she discussed interesting psychological elements common in all manners of disputes, demonstrated in case studies which were adapted from disputes she had mediated over the past 10 years. IMG_2993 HMG mediator Mr Lim Tat (first from right) also contributed a chapter on the "Processes and Stages of Mediation", going deep into the skills and competencies a mediator needs to provide structure for disputing parties. FullSizeRender_2  

HMG on Mediacorp “Talking Point”

HMG Managing Director was  privileged to be amongst a distinguished group of panelists invited  on Mediacorp TV's Talking Point 2 weeks ago, to give her insights on family conflicts in relation to filial piety. Amongst the many points of views raised on the program, this comment made by Linda is relevant to all conflicts, be it commercial or family disputes:

"Mediation can happen even further upstream, it does not only have to happen at the Tribunal... (people) can seek out mediation at a much earlier stage, and prevent the conflict from escalating. It is a confidential process, it is private, it is face-saving."

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