Another one of our exceptional Edwards Mediation Academy instructors is Dana Curtis. Dana was among the first attorneys in the U.S. to devote her career exclusively to mediation, and she began her full-time mediation practice in 1991. She has been a teacher of mediation, negotiation and other conflict management programs for over 25 years, including at Stanford and Harvard.
What I especially admire about Dana is her exceptional skill with difficult and highly emotional situations. She is particularly adept at helping individuals involved in a dispute understand how they may be contributing to the conflict so that they can begin to rebuild a positive relationship with one another.
On becoming a mediator
Dana had been a teacher for 13 years and then decided to go to law school. In her second year of law school, she took a course that had mediation as a component. She immediately knew, “This is what I want to do.” Mediation made sense to Dana because it includes the personal component of a conflict: all of the personalities, all of the emotions. Dana believes it’s been a huge help to her as a mediator to have a teaching background because, many times, what a mediator is doing is helping people learn a different way of thinking – a new way of relating to each other and having conversations that they haven’t had before.
For Dana, every mediation is analytical as well as emotional, and she brings an intense curiosity to each situation. She asks probing questions, and listens deeply with empathy and compassion. Dana believes that the highest potential of mediation is to help people find closure and, where they can, connection.
Addressing the relationship first
One of the techniques Dana employees in highly emotional situations is to address the relationship issues first, before the mediation begins. For example, in a mediation with a brother and sister involving real estate holdings, Dana spoke separately with each of them, before the mediation, about the quality of their relationship. The brother and sister hadn’t really connected since they were young. Dana helped them sort through some of the difficult situations in the past that had left bad feelings. Through her questions, she learned that both would like to have a better relationship going forward. She convened the mediation with their commitment to work toward that goal.
During the mediation, it was all about solving the problem, rather than about how badly they felt and how mad they were. They were able to talk through their issues and really connect on a personal level. The brother and sister ended up being amazingly generous with each other and achieved a level of resolution that was much greater than figuring out who received which apartment.
There was a point where the brother said to his sister, “You know, I’ve grown a lot. Let me tell you what’s going on in my life.” The sister said to Dana at the end of the day, “I have never felt so close to my brother in my whole life.”
Helping people connect
This is what inspires Dana most: she deeply wants to help people connect rather than pursue lawsuits. Dana Curtis believes that if people can truly understand each other and develop a respectful attitude toward each other again, a lot can happen.