My experience as an automobile dealer and sales entrepreneur is extremely valuable in performing my duties as a court mediator.

I'VE SERVED AS A MEDIATOR IN THE MEDIATION Center of the Pacific for the past decade.

This post-retirement career began with several intensive weekend training sessions, followed by regular sessions in the local courts. The goal is to settle disputes in lieu of actual court trials.

In the State of Hawaii where I currently reside, it is mandatory for all unresolved small claims ($3,500 maximum) to go through the mediation process before the presiding judge will hear their case. Mediators settle about 40% of the cases. It relieves loaded court dockets.

Like arbitration, there's no rendered decision in the mediation sessions. The mediator acts as a facilitator guiding the involved parties to settle their differences. The claimants do not sacrifice any of their court rights if mediation fails. However, it becomes binding when both parties acknowledge and sign an agreement.

My experience as an automobile dealer and sales entrepreneur is extremely valuable in performing my duties as a court mediator.

Being a car dealer defending against barbs and arrows from misguided consumer advocates was almost a full-time job if you valued your business's reputation, especially during the 1960s.

On a more practical observation, how many older dealers ever sold automobiles using a “will-you-take?” approach of leaving a written trade-in offer on an unsuspecting prospect's windshield?

The connection between that and small claims mediation is simple. The average small claims plaintiff and defendant come to court with a hopeful idea of what they would accept as satisfaction of their day in court. In many cases, there may be hundreds of dollar spread between their asking amount and their taking amount. In simple language, “What will they settle for?”

The entire automobile selling process is an exercise in mediation!

It's similar to floor managers used extensively by high-volume dealers as closers who are privy to how far the dealership will bargain. Trained small claims mediators utilize private sessions with each participant to discover their limits. Armed with this information, the experienced mediator can negotiate a settlement which will be acceptable to both parties.

Everybody to a degree practices mediation in most of our daily interactions.

It's mediation:

  • When your teenager elects to come home from a date at 1 a.m. and you thereupon convince them, without raising your voice, to come home by midnight.

  • When a policeman stops you for a traffic violation and you attempt to request a lesser charge.

  • When your mother-in-law advises you she's about to visit for an extended stay, and you convince your wife that friends are depending on you for transportation on your fishing trip.

  • When your factory rep attempts to stiff you with some slow-moving models, and you negotiate for several hot-sellers as an inducement.

  • When you create financially efficient employee pay plans which allow a reasonable profit and satisfy your employees.

  • When your floor plan source accuses you of selling new cars and trucks out of trust, and you offer a credible explanation. That may take all the mediation skills you possess.

New-car dealers spend much of their time in an average work day mediating all sorts of conflicts.

A classic example is handling a customer complaint so the result can be a win/win for you and your customer. In any customer complaint it is foolhardy to win an argument and lose a customer's good will. Mediation is compromising, but moreover it is a diplomatic process from which both parties can walk away feeling like winners.

My years of negotiating deals and running a dealership help me in mediating small claims cases. But no matter what your business experience is, it will get better if you use mediation an integral part of your daily agenda.

Nat Shulman was owner of Best Chevrolet in Hingham, MA for many years.