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  • Writer's pictureHoward Kline


You would think that as a mediator and arbitrator I would write about how much you need me to resolve disputes for you. As a contrarian, I would rather help you resolve your own disputes before the need to see me for help. The way I see it, even if this article can benefit you there will still be plenty of disputes that will need to be resolved through mediation or arbitration. Part of my mission as a person, mediator, arbitrator and citizen, is educating the public to deal with resolving disputes in their normal everyday lives.

There are plenty of articles and posts that will give you all kinds of advice and instruct you to control your emotions, think more logically, be more objective or not to yell or raise your voice but most of the articles tell you what to do, not how to do it. In this article I endeavor to help you to begin the process of controlling your responses when faced with a dispute that needs to be resolved.


To begin with, it's important to understand that disputes are a natural part of human

interaction. They can arise from misunderstandings, differences in opinion, opposing interests or simply from being in a bad mood. The key to resolving disputes effectively is to approach them with a calm and open mind, and to be willing to listen to the other person's point of view. The question is; how do you deal with a dispute with a calm and open mind. In this article, we'll explore some practical tips and strategies for resolving disputes in a constructive and positive way.

The key to dealing with disputes in a constructive and positive way is to train yourself to respond in a way that most likely allows you to lead to a resolution of the dispute that most benefits you. This requires a clear headed objective approach while limiting your emotional response. This is not something that comes naturally to most people and takes practice.


The trick is to create a set of responses that are essentially habits allowing you to respond without seemingly conscious thought and which become second nature to you. Instead of responding by yelling or with a smirk on your face, you are able to stop and think about your best response. Creating a series of habits usually requires a person to start with identifying a Keystone Habit that you can remember and implement in a moment of stress.

A Keystone Habit is a fundamental habit from which other habits follow. It is the least common denominator; the bottom of an inverted pyramid. They make further change possible. It’s the one thing that you feel confident that you can do. They are the kind of habits that impact other habits in a positive way.

If you only smoke in the car and you wanted to quit smoking a Keystone Habit would be to avoid bringing or keeping cigarettes in the car. If you want to lose weight don’t bring snacks into the house. For many years I would only smoke in the car. Near the end of every week, I would vow to quit smoking come the following Monday. Then, come Monday morning I would be driving to work without realizing I had a burning cigarette in my hand, only to vow, well next Monday I was going to quit. This went on and on for years before I eventually quit smoking and have been tobacco free for over 26 years.

I’m not suggesting that finding and implementing your Keystone Habit is easy, but it is the easiest, most likely habit that you can form and lead to the habits.


In the context of resolving a dispute, particularly those disputes which cause emotional responses, my Keystone Habit is to take a deep breath or two. Deep breathing tends to calm me down and gives me an opportunity to think about how I should respond. It also gives me a moment to better analyze my emotions and consider the situation in a more objective fashion.

For me, the deep breathing technique does not come naturally.

It takes time and practice. I have to practice it, over and over and often in natural situations and common discussions. I cannot overstress the need to practice. The technique of deep breathing can be applied in all interactions.


As a mediator, I also have established my own Keystone Habits that allow me to focus on helping the parties communicate better with each other. My primary Keystone Habit is to be quiet and listen. I am keenly aware of what each of the parties and saying verbally and otherwise. Even that is not as easy as it sounds. This is not just listening but listening in such a way as to identify a party’s true interest or, at least identify the questions that I need to ask that will help them identify their true interest. It is listening in such a way as to avoid conclusions and judgments. I call this Active Listening which I will describe in another article and video.

Howard Kline is a mediator and arbitrator and has been a California licensed attorney for over 46 years. This article is an abbreviated article from an original more detailed post and podcast which can be accessed along with a bibliography at

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