Background and Approach
Robert Benjamin has been a practicing attorney since 1975. He was a general practitioner handling domestic, juvenile, personal injury, criminal, business, real estate and estate planning among other matters. Early on in his law career, he became aware that many of the issues he was seeking to resolve for clients legally reflected underlying conflicts that could be more effectively managed out of court by negotiation and mediation. After some years of trial practice, he refocused his professional direction toward mediation and now limits his work solely to negotiation and mediation. He has been a practicing mediator since 1979.
Benjamin has both law (J.D.) and social work (M.S.W.) degrees from Saint Louis University. He received his undergraduate degree from Washington University in 1969, with a double major in history and psychology.
He presents negotiation, mediation, and conflict management workshops, seminars and training courses nationally and internationally. He has taught for over 35 years in numerous universities, law schools and graduate programs. He has been an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University, The Strauss Program on Conflict Resolution in Malibu, CA, Southern Methodist University, Program on Conflict Resolution in Dallas, TX, Portland State University, Conflict Resolution Program in Portland, OR, Washington University, George Warren Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis, MO, and Indiana State University.
He is Past President of the former Academy of Family Mediators (AFM), a practitioner member of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR), Honorary Member of the International Academy of Mediators (IAM), the American Bar Association Section on Dispute Resolution, the Oregon Mediation Association, past Board Member of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), and a member of the former Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR).
Robert Benjamin has provided mediation services in all contexts, including:
- employment grievances and workplace disputes (Americans with Disabilities, age, race, sex discrimination matters, sexual "harassment" complaints)
educational system disputes (students/teachers and special education IEP disputes)
- real estate, land use and construction disputes (developers and residents)
- contract and commercial disputes
- health care issues (medical treatment disputes, "malpractice" and other care issues)
- personal injury and damage (insurance) claims
- intraorganizational disputes (partnership dissolutions, board/management disputes)
- public policy disputes (allocation of resources)
- family conflicts (divorce, parent/child, will disputes, family business disputes)
The effective management of conflict is perhaps the single most important task we face in our personal and business lives. In recent years, attention has focused on developing skills in and encouraging the use of negotiation and mediation. There has been a shift in our thinking such that more people are coming to realize that there are few clear right answers to the issues and conflicts we face and that differences must be negotiated if we are to survive. Those differences may involve the allocation of resources (time, money, property), values, rights and legal entitlements.
That shift in thinking, however, is not occurring swiftly nor is likely to do so in the near future. We are confronting centuries of thinking and socialization that has frequently discouraged negotiation in pursuit of the "truth." Many people still view negotiation as synonymous with "selling out," or the compromising of our principles.
To counter this negative view of negotiation, some professionals have sought to present mediation as a rational and humanistic process. They argue that if we can all reason together and seek to understand each other, conflicts can be resolved. While this approach is noble and has some validity, these approaches to negotiation are limited because most people in business or personal conflicts don't necessarily start off reasonable and unemotional.
Benjamin has developed an approach to negotiation and mediation that takes account of this hard reality. He believes that if mediation is to develop and flourish, first and foremost, it must be good business. People need not be calm and rational to effectively negotiate. They can negotiate even if they are angry and frustrated, if they feel they will be protected and that they will not be taken advantage of. The mediator's role, then, is to understand how to manage parties' fears and assure that their concerns are recognized. The mediator begins with the parties where they are in their thinking, not where he would like for them to be.
Not all people want to negotiate, or should. However, many (80%) can effectively settle their disputes with the aid of an experienced third party who helps them structure a process and has the skills to focus the discussion.
Mediation is not counseling. The primary purpose is to effectively negotiate the dispute that is presented, not change personal attitudes. At the same time, the sole purpose of mediation is not settlement. That is the responsibility of the parties. The mediator's purpose is to give the parties every opportunity to make informed, thoughtful decisions so that they can move ahead in their lives, be it personally or in their workplace.
Selected Publications and Book Contributions
- "Effective Negotiation and Mediation of Conflict: Applied Theory, Forms and Practice Handbook," Mediation and Conflict Management Services, 10th Edition, 2007 (available on CD Rom, see Resources & Publications)
- "The Physics of Mediation: The Reflections of Scientific Theory in Professional Mediation Practice." Mediation Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 2, Winter, 1990. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA (available on the 'Guerilla Negotiator' CD Rom, see Resources & Publications)
- "The Use of Mediative Strategies in Traditional Legal Practice," The Family Law Reporter, The Journal of The Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Vol. 14, No. 2, 1997 (available on the 'Guerilla Negotiator' CD Rom, see Resources & Publications)
- "Mediative Strategies in the Management of Child Sexual Abuse Matters," Family and Conciliation Courts Review, July 1991. Sage Publications, Newburg Park, CA, Third Annual Meyer Elkin Essay Award winner (available on the 'Guerilla Negotiator' CD Rom, see Resources & Publications)
- "Managing the Natural Energy of Conflict: Mediators, Tricksters and the Constructive Uses of Deception," Bringing Peace Into The Room: How the Personal Qualities of the Mediator Impact the Process of Conflict Resolution, Editors D. Bowling, D. Hoffman, 2003, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA (available on the 'Guerilla Negotiator' CD Rom, see Resources & Publications)
- "Negotiation and Evil: Religious and Moral Resistance to the Settlement of Conflict." Mediation Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Spring 1998. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA (available on the 'Guerilla Negotiator' CD Rom, see Resources & Publications)
- "Strategies for Managing Impasse," Divorce and Family Mediation, Editors: J. Folberg, A. Milne, P. Salem, Guilford Publications, Inc., 2004 (available on the 'Guerilla Negotiator' CD Rom, see Resources & Publications)
- "The Beauty of Conflict: Art Lessons, Lateral Thinking and Creative Problem Solving," Wisconsin Association of Mediators Journal, 2007, Chip Nichols Essay Award winner (available on the 'Beauty of Conflict CD Rom, see Resources & Publications)
- "The Strategic Use of Art in Problem Solving," The Creative Problem Solver's Handbook for Negotiators and Mediators, Vol. 1, Editor John W. Cooley, American Bar Association, 2005 (available on the 'The Beauty of Conflict' CD Rom, see Resources & Publications
- "The Natural History of Negotiation and Mediation: The Evolution of Negotiative Behavior and Rituals," 2012 (see Articles)
Honors and Acknowledgements
- The John Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award, Association for Conflict Resolution, 2009
- The Chip Nichols Best Essay Award, "The Beauty of Conflict," The Journal of Wisconsin Association of Mediators, 2007
- The Meyer Elkin Essay Award, "Mediative Strategies in the Management of Child Sexual Abuse Matters," Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, 1991
- St. Louis County Welfare Commission (Chairperson, 1978-1980)
- Missouri Association for Social Welfare (President, 1981-1984)
- Academy of Family Mediators (Board member, 1986-89; 1991-1998; President, 1996-1997)
- Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution
- Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (Board member, 1988-96)
- American Bar Association - Section on Dispute Resolution
- Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis (Dispute Resolution Committee - Founding Chairperson, 1984)
- Missouri Bar Association (Special Committee on Dispute Resolution, 1989-1991)
- National Association of Social Workers