The CPR European Advisory Board (EAB) continues it series “meet CPR’s Distinguished Neutrals in Europe” and today it presents its next Q&A, with Klaus-Olaf Zehle.
Klaus-Olaf is a German ADR practitioner based in the northern part of German. His activity focuses on mediation, moderation of meetings and workshops and coaching. A qualified industrial engineer, Klaus-Olaf spent 20 years in leadership positions at local and international IT consulting firms. He also sat on the board of a public telecommunication and outsourcing provider. In 2004, he started a second career as mediator, coach, moderator and leadership trainer with a natural special focus on customers from technology and engineering. He is a Certified Mediator from the International Mediation Institute (IMI), Den Haag and qualified as Certified Mediator according to German law. In addition to the CPR Panel of Neutrals, he is also on the panel of mediators for commercial disputes and an arbitrator for IT conflicts at the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. Klaus-Olaf is very active in mediation in and around Hamburg where he lives: he teaches mediation in the Masters in Programme Management at the International School of Management and Networking & Network Building in the Masters in Corporate Management at the Business and Information Techology School. He speaks and practices in German and English.
Klaus-Olaf has kindly agreed to contribute to our series and give us his insight on his mediation practice:
How did you get your start as a neutral?
Before any education on mediation, I got my first experiences as an Executive in a company by solving conflicts between departments which had different targets.
Who is your dispute resolution hero/heroine?
Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein from the Center for Mediation in Law are my mediation heroes. Not only did I benefit from two practitioner trainings with them, but they have also influenced the German mediation scene from the early days of mediation in the country. Nearly all of my coaches in mediation had undertaken their first education in mediation from Gary and Jack.
Their concentration on the power of understanding characterizes the way in which I now personally conduct mediation.
From Germany my mediation experience was mainly influenced by Stephan Breidenbach and Jutta Lack-Strecker.
What advice would you give to the younger generation looking for a first appointment as neutral?
Do not expect to be the neutral that all parties in dispute are waiting for.
It takes a long time to build a reputation. Networking in local and nationwide mediation associations is helpful. There, you can get experience from other neutrals.
Also, local events are very important; you should try to make presentations or speeches about the benefits of mediation and other dispute resolution processes at such events. It’s all about educating your potential clients.
Short articles or essays about dispute resolution in local newspapers or journals also can be of help.
Were you ever the first in doing something?
Yes, on many occasions, I was an innovator or early adopter. In my profession as a consultant, I was one of the first to offer mediation. A lot of my colleagues followed me in this specialization.
Together with three colleagues, we developed a specific consulting concept for disputes within a corporation, which is based on the principle of disputes resolution by a neutral dispute. We named this concept equidistance consulting.
We also developed a new methodology called Congruation (Congruence & Integration). This process refers to the need to show the differences in the positions and interests of the various members of a team or a board in order to solve latent conflicts. This is a paradigm I learned from coaching by Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein,
What makes your conflict resolution style unique?
While I am conscious that it is not – from a purist point of view – part of a neutral’s role or acceptable, I sometimes switch from a mediator role to that of an experienced person with an outside view of the situation and provide advice and ideas on how to resolve the conflict. I always do this with the prior full consent of all parties involved.
One example: During a mediation process with several partners of a law firm and relating to managing issues, I switched my role at some point and reported to them on best practices that I teach in leadership courses. These best practices are intended to give the parties the possibility to learn from each other. The parties are free to decide together whether they want to follow this kind of best practice or an adjusted version of the same.
What has been the most difficult challenge you have faced as a neutral?
I mediated a team conflict, which after some discussions resulted in there being one person opposed to nearly ten colleagues. I was convinced that even in this specific setting the conflict could be resolved by mediation. During the process, the significant imbalance of one against ten became more and more obvious, and I started to feel inclined to support the one-person party. I therefore recommended that they reduce the number of participants in the group of ten persons. This proposal was not accepted, and we stopped the mediation process.
What is the most important mistake you see counsel make?
Counsels who insist on prolonged discussions after a clear getting to “yes” phase. They should accept that their client does not need additional reasons or to reopen the discussion.
I sometimes have the feeling, that counsels like to make themselves valuable by showing that their view – when it is different from the negotiated agreement – is still the only right way.
If you could change one thing about commercial arbitration, what would it be?
Mediation should be mandatory before going to court or arbitration.
Now let’s turn to a specific topic: what is your approach to cybersecurity and data protection in international dispute resolution?
Online mediation is one of the most efficient ways to resolve disputes among parties who are located far away from each other. The current discussion on security risks of some platforms should be addressed at the beginning. The benefits should be balanced against the risks of confidentiality. All parties have to agree on the video conference platform to be used. Those documents that contains material worthy of protection could be shared in encrypted form via a separate communication channel and parties should be instructed not to share such material on screen during the video conference.
In your view, what makes CPR unique?
During my master studies in mediation, I learned about CPR in conjunction with the CPR pledge. I liked this idea and based my master thesis on this topic. The CPR pledge is for me still one of the key elements to dispute resolution.
Do you have any concluding remarks or an anecdote you would like to share?
My 2005 published master thesis on “Enhancing the acceptance of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) practices between corporations through voluntary commitment, considering the example of the CPR Pledge and its transferability to the German market” was included in a PWC Study on ADR, which has had a lot of impact in establishing a series of conferences on ADR in Germany. Out of these conferences a round table of large corporations was established which now developed a pledge for Germany. CPR has indirectly influenced the acceptance to ADR in Germany.