Stress Management Techniques for ADR Practitioners

AutorMichael Havercamp
Cargo del AutorUniversity of Nevada

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1. Introduction

Extensive research exists on the negative effects of stress2. An exhaustive list of books, scientific journals, and periodicals are devoted to stress management and self-healing techniques3. Little attention, however, has been given to strategies and techniques that alternative dispute resolution (ADR) practitioners can use to manage

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stress in their personal lives. For the purposes of this chapter, ADR practitioners include mediators, arbitrators, lawyers, and community development professionals employed or serving as volunteers or pro bono for judicial systems (district courts), private firms (Bolsas y Mercados listed companies), nongovernment (Oxfam), national (Mexico’s Department of Health), and international (United Nations) organizations. Alternative dispute practitioners are involved with numerous issues: community (food, shelter, health, education, and security), family (child custody), commercial and business (customer warranty), organization (department conflicts), criminal (juvenile) workplace (employee harassment), interpersonal (difficult team members), public policy (land tenure), and religious (Arab-Palestinian).

This chapter addresses three questions related to transforming negative stress. First, what are the challenges ADR practitioners face in confronting and relieving stress? Secondly, what are the strategies and techniques for transforming negative stress? Thirdly, what are possible benefits from incorporating daily stress management and de-stressing techniques into your personal life? In the section on strategies and techniques, special attention is given to a ten minute meridian tapping, de-stressing, and energy enhancement technique.

2. What are the challenges ADR practitioners face in confronting and relieving stress?

Often ADR professionals, such as court appointed mediators and arbitrators, exist within a legal system focused on win/lose settlements4. This system arguably produces negative reactions in litigants, clients, lawyers, judges, and court employees. A litigant, for example, may find herself or himself experiencing anger and even hatred toward another person or the judicial system in general. A lawyer-mediator recently diagnosed with hypertension may be experiencing a decline in work productivity and an increase in tensions and conflicts among professional and family members, due in part from a stressful work-related environment.

Pressure builds in many judicial systems to control burgeoning court dockets. Judges and court personnel attempt to meet this challenge by implementing ADR practices such as settlement hearings to cope with an overloaded, overworked, and under-staffed system. Even though we see signs of improvement in justice systems, too often we feel trapped in a turbulent web of tension, anxiety, and stress. Stress takes its toll on our well-being and that of our colleagues. Witnessing a decline in our colleagues’ personal health, we see them struggling to balance negative stress with the demands of an ADR practice and family life; and thus finding themselves losing interest in ADR. We may hear our inner-voice or a colleague say:

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It hurts and feels crummy. I can no longer sleep. I am irritable. My energy is drained. I want to quit, give up, and find a different job.

The impact of negative stress becomes very personal and potentially detrimental to a field that benefits from ADR professionals "feeling good" about themselves and their work.

Besides those of us working in the more traditional judicial system, there are individuals working in less defined alternative dispute resolution roles as paid employees and volunteers for nongovernment organizations and national and international governments. Within these organizations, we often serve as facilitators, change agents, community advocates, independent trainers, contractors, consultants, and mediators in communities with functional and minimally functional legal systems such as war zones and failed-state nation communities. Often we risk our lives on behalf of a commitment to community and nation building, and economic and social justice. We frequently work long hours and strive to create a climate of nonviolence, peace, and security. As a result of a demanding work schedule and commitment to more peaceful and functional communities, we attempt to achieve "win-win" resolutions over intractable grievances such as land tenure issues, without taxing an overloaded legal system with additional lawsuits. Some of us who work in war-zone communities are challenged to cope with the loss of a colleague’s life, personal security, dislocation, and family separation.

Within small and large business organizations, ombudsmen and organizational development personnel attempt to balance potentially conflicting roles as facilitators, mediators, and neutrals5. In these roles, we serve as internal organizational consultants on organizational planning issues and conflict resolution. We feel that we are able to keep our opinions and potential bias from influencing the facilitation of a critical product-development strategic planning process or an internal interpersonal conflict among employees. Due to our institutional position whereby some of us report directly to a company CEO, we are seen by some employees as advocates of specific organizational interests, not as impartial mediators, for example. The challenge of this potential dilemma may keep us from receiving adequate sleep. Unable to sleep, we may be pre-occupied with the question, how well can I serve as a neutral if I am viewed aligned to an organizational interest that some parties in an upcoming planning session don’t favor? Such stress is compounded by the unexpected demands of a heavy facilitation and mediation schedule during peak periods when our employer-organization is undergoing major downsizing, reducing budgets, and terminating employees. This uncertain organizational climate weighs heavily on many of us who feel "caught in the middle" as mediators and who also fear the loss of our job.

As ADR practitioners, negative stress affects us in different ways. Some of us experience high blood pressure and sleep disorders. We alleviate stress with anti-

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anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and unhealthy diets filled with tobacco products and alcohol, which often take their toll in the form of disease and addictive behaviors6.

Negative stress, stimulated by a negative emotion, memory, or trauma, may weaken the immune system, producing high levels of cortisol7.

As we know, discussion about the effects of negative stress on the human body takes place in courtroom hallways, cafes, pubs, conversational meetings in developing communities, and in professional circles. While the relationship between negative stress and the body’s well being is commonly understood, little is known about the effect of positive stress or eustress8 on the body. Childre and Rozman remind us that:

Most research has focused on pathological behaviors or on the effects of disturbed emotions, such as hostility, depression, anxiety, and stress on the body9.

Positive stress, including physical exercise, affects the brain’s chemistry differently, triggering endorphins, a morphine-like substance, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a hormone known to repair and heal the body.10 Manufacturing many of these natural-producing substances, our bodies create an internal arsenal of components that serve as a defensive barrier to combating biochemical conditions associated with harmful stress, such as cortisol, and physical illness, such as heat disease. Given what we are learning about the body’s natural abilities to heal and repair itself, this chapter will explore a list of stress management techniques that ADR practitioners can use to transform negative stress.

3. What are the...

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