To The Drawing Board, Heckman to Use Humor, Pop Culture at Kaplan Lecture
By Tracy Carbasho
The 13th Annual Kaplan Lecture promises to be unlike any other with an internationally renowned speaker who uses humor, drawings and pop culture to illustrate his belief that the best mediators are willing to be silent, are curious about the parties and refrain from making assumptions.
“Bringing our opinions, ego, viewpoints and preconceptions to the table can be detrimental to the process,” said Brad Heckman, CEO of the New York Peace Institute, one of the largest mediation services in the United States. “If we approach each session with a beginner’s mind and respect our clients’ courage to have difficult conversations, we can bear witness to amazing acts of generosity, kindness and reconciliation.”
Heckman will share his sought-after, down-to-earth brand of teaching with those who attend the lecture on Wednesday, May 25, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the Rivers Club. Registration for the event, which costs $45 per person, ends on May 17. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and a cocktail hour will be held from 5-6 p.m. Previous lectures have drawn between 70 and 100 attendees.
Speakers at the lecture are known for providing tools and information to help participants develop skills that could be relevant not only to any dispute-resolution process, but also to life experiences. Heckman will provide easy-to-remember, sensible techniques that attorneys can use in their practices and their everyday lives.
“I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but we’ll discuss agendas and affect labeling,” he said. “I hope to raise awareness of a range of mediator interventions that allow parties to feel heard and to create paths to come up with their own ways of moving forward. Many of the skills we’ll cover relate to how we listen, ask questions and generate movement in disputes.”
Heckman’s penchant for peaceful dialogue began in 1989 when he was a university lecturer witnessing Poland’s transition to democracy. He went on to earn his master’s degree in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
Since then, he has introduced mediation to Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, Caucasus and the Baltics. He also worked in Hungary and the Czech Republic, where he oversaw a program aimed at promoting gypsy inclusion into society.
On the domestic front, he has provided training for the New York Police Department, labor unions, NASA, the United Nations and various community organizations.
“I’ve trained about 200 New York police officers to date and we’ve gotten amazing feedback about how they use their skills on the street,” Heckman said. “Working with the NYPD has reinforced how mediation skills can be used as micro-interventions in difficult, and even highly escalated, conversations.”
Heckman, who grew up near Allentown, Pa., packs a lot of punch into his presentations, but he does so in a most unusual way. He could reflect on his vast background and convey what he has learned about what works and what doesn’t work in mediation. However, he chooses to infuse his presentations with his own drawings, which are often funny, to help participants remember particular points. It’s part of his effort to address as many learning styles as possible in his training.
“The drawings can serve as mnemonic devices for learners and can appeal to visual thinkers,” he said. “Someone told me that laughing brains are more absorbent. Ridiculous clips from TV shows or movies can make training fun and interesting and can help make important ideas gel in our minds.”
The biggest piece of advice Heckman hopes to impart on lecture attendees is that mediation – and alternate dispute resolution (ADR) sessions in general – will succeed if neutrals honor the parties’ self-determination, exercise impartiality, respect confidentiality, create a safe space and facilitate a quality process. He noted that if neutrals try to rush the process or impose their views on the parties, they may reach an agreement, but it’s not likely to be a durable one that truly reflects their needs.
The first Kaplan Lecture was held in 2004 as a joint effort between the ACBA ADR Committee, the Pittsburgh Mediation Center and the Mediation Council of Western Pennsylvania. The lecture is named in honor of former Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Lawrence Kaplan because of his pioneering effort to introduce mediation to Western Pennsylvania in the early 1980s.
Today, the lecture is organized jointly by the ACBA ADR Committee and the ACBA Collaborative Law Committee. The Kaplan Lecture Committee chooses the speaker each year. Heckman was selected because David Breen and Lisa Standish, who chair the ADR Committee and the Collaborative Law Committee, respectively, had seen one of his presentations in 2015.
“He is a unique person in the field of conflict resolution and is quite entertaining. Whether you are just starting or are an advanced mediator, you will leave the lecture with something helpful in resolving conflict,” Breen said.
Standish has already incorporated some of the mediation techniques that she learned from Heckman into her practice and is looking forward to learning more.
“The way Brad trains incorporates so many different types of teaching that it reaches everyone in ways that people actually remember,” Standish said. “People learn by seeing, hearing and doing, and he incorporates these into his training with stories, humor and drawings. We even played a volleyball game last year using the mediation techniques he taught us.”
Standish and Breen are members of the Kaplan Lecture Committee. Richard Rogow is a founding member of the lecture and has attended all 12 of the programs so far. He has enjoyed the presentations from noteworthy speakers.
Rogow, who represents the Mediation Council of Western Pennsylvania, is currently working for the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations. The commission is discussing the possibility of providing access to mediation to the city for its employees and more actively involving mediation with the police force and community relations. He is proud of the longevity of the Kaplan Lecture and the growing use of ADR procedures in Pittsburgh.
“As a person who has believed in the option of mediation for a while, it’s heartening to see court acceptance of the efficacy of the process,” Rogow said. “Paraphrasing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, ‘mediation skills are a must for anyone who negotiates, which is to say all of us.”’