Recently, a local incident grew into a national dispute that seemed ripe for mediation. After being locked out of his home and forcing his way in, Henry Louis Gates, an African-American Harvard University professor, had a confrontation with Cambridge, Massachusetts police sergeant James Crowley and was arrested for disorderly conduct. In a press conference, President Obama said the Cambridge police had acted “stupidly” in arresting Gates—and instantly, the minor news story was elevated into a national debate on race.
And so the “beer summit” was born. Obama welcomed Gates and Crowley to the White House and shared a round of beer with them and Vice President Joe Biden in the Rose Garden.
Given his stated opinion on the case and his political interest in the outcome, Obama was not in a position to play the role of impartial mediator. Yet the photo opportunity succeeded in bringing the disputants together. Gates and Crowley said they would be meeting again in private to discuss their moment in history in greater detail.
When two or more parties are having trouble negotiating their way through a dispute, mediation can bring them together. In “Make the Most of Mediation,” the lead article in the October issue of the Negotiation newsletter, we take an in-depth look at the benefits of mediation, show you how to choose a mediator, and explain how the process usually unfolds.