Allow me to introduce you to two of my
favorite mediators, though I have never
met either of them.
The first is Sait Sanli, a butcher and cattle-rancher,
who is a widely respected peacemaker in southeastern Turkey. Fifteen years ago Mr. Sanli turned over
his business interests to his eight children, and now
devotes most of his time, without pay, to resolving
tribal conflicts, vendettas, and other high-stakes
inter-family feuds. Many of these disputes extend
over decades, claiming many lives. Mr. Sanli, who
is 71 years old, barely 5-feet tall, and described by
the Wall Street Journal as “energetic,” has resolved
nearly a thousand conflicts of this kind. One newspaper reported that he had 67 families on his waiting
list for mediation services.
“One of his most complex cases,” according to the
WSJ, “involved a land dispute that started with two
shepherds five years ago and mushroomed into a
full-blown tribal feud that claimed 11 lives. After a
year of negotiations, in which he pleaded with tribal
chiefs to rise above the tit-for-tat, Mr. Sanli held a
peace ceremony . . . that included 1,500 participants.”
What are Mr. Sanli’s methods? According to The
Christian Science Monitor, “He cajoles, admonishes,
and, occasionally threatens. When all else fails, he
resorts to crying. The sight of tears rolling down a
grown man’s face is apparently enough to soften
even the most hardened heart.” In an interview with
The Washington Times, Mr. Sanli said: “I kiss hands. I
berate, I shout. Sometimes I cry. Above all, I listen to
everybody involved, even the children.”
The second mediator is known to me only through
a story told by Prof. Michelle LeBaron in her book
Bridging Troubled Waters: Conflict Resolution from
the Heart. She describes him as an elder from a First
Nations community of Canada. This village elder paid
a visit to a neighbor who had an extremely bother-
That dog barked all night long, every
night, kept the whole neighborhood
awake. It was a really yappy dog, and
nobody could stand it much longer.
One afternoon, [the] elder went over
to visit the dog owner without being
announced. They had tea. Talked about
the weather and upcoming pow-wow.
They told a couple of stories. Then the
elder left. Still, the dog barked at night. A
few days later, the same elder dropped
by for another visit. Same thing. They
talked about the weather and brushfire
down in the coulee. Then the elder
left. Still, no relief. A day or two later,
the elder visited again. They had tea.
Talked about the weather, the way the
government negotiations were going.
And the elder left. After that, the dog
was kept in every night. Never caused
anybody trouble anymore.
What were this elder’s methods? He discerned
that the key to resolving this conflict was protecting the dog owner from losing face. Thus, he made no
mention of the dog to the dog owner, who, after the
third visit, evidently figured out why he was getting
these unannounced visits.
This elder’s methods differ dramatically from those
of Mr. Sanli, whose bluntness and emotional appeals
to the disputants are nevertheless equally effective.
We can safely surmise that neither of these
mediators has ever studied mediation theory or
taken a 40-hour training course in mediation. They
would probably find it puzzling – perhaps even a bit
amusing – that mediators in our culture debate the
question of whether mediation should be facilitative,
evaluative, or transformative.
Their success as mediators seems to stem from the
respect and trust that they have earned as elders in
their community, and from their personal qualities,
which include compassion, patience, and discern-
ment. They are problem-solvers who have developed
mediation techniques that play to their personal
strengths. As I wrote in 1999 in an article called “Con-
fessions of a Problem-Solving Mediator,”
In days of yore, people came to village
elders to discuss their disputes — not
because the elders had the best process
skills but because they had experience
and, hopefully, good judgment. . . . The
elders’ judgment and discernment were
what led the parties to trust them with a
role in resolving their dispute.
Sibel Utku Bila, writing in the Turkish newspaper
Hurriyet Daily News, offered the following observations about Mr. Sanli: “The clout he enjoys that forces
people to reconcile . . . stems from the respect he
About the Author
is a mediator,
attorney at Boston
LLC. He teaches
courses on Mediation and Collaborative Law at Harvard
Law School and is
a past-president of
New England ACR.
with Danielle A. Reyes
is an Intern at
Boston Law Collaborative, LLC and
a student at Boston
College Law School.
She was previously
Coordinator at the
Los Angeles County
Center for Civic