Mediation and Emotions. Member Spotlight: Lorenzo Colombani

“Mediation, whether it is commercial, business, or family mediation, all of those three types have the same principle. Every time emotions are paramount. As a mediator, you are dealing with people and emotions, rather than the problem, and what really counts are the perceptions that people have about each other.”

Professional Background

Lorenzo is a Negotiation Consultant and Learning Design Officer at MCR GROUPE where his role is to advise companies and individuals on sensitive deals and negotiations and educating them to be collaborative in a negotiation. After initially studying Political Science and Government at Sciences Po in Paris and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the Sorbonne Université, he had an opportunity to spend a couple of months as an exchange student at the University of Pittsburgh, US. After that experience broadened his horizons, Lorenzo decided to pursue a further education in law, which resulted in his Master’s Degrees in Business Law from Sciences Po, Law Degree (LLM) from the University of Pennsylvania and his License to Practice Law in France. As a former Fulbright scholar he is also an Executive Board Member of the Fulbright Alumni Association working to promote the US Fulbright program in France and strengthen the French alumni network

Journey Towards Mediation

While in the US, at the University of Pennsylvania, Lorenzo had an opportunity to attend courses on negotiations with Stuart Diamond and mediation with multiple instructors, as well as get practical knowledge by mediating at the courts of Philadelphia and a few other judicial bodies. “Seeing how many conflicts emerged not only from the substance of conflict but from people misunderstanding each other and not being able to communicate well, I felt a calling”. He tells the story of one case when two people decided to go to court for over $1500, and despite the high costs of the process, they spent 2 years trying to settle the dispute. “When we started mediating, we were able to solve it in 4 hours and make them friends again, who agreed to pay back the amount of money by 5$ increments every week. That was the moment when I realized that many conflicts arise because people have misguided notions and misguided instructions on how to negotiate, communicate and talk to each other. I am convinced that this is one of the reasons why there are so many conflicts in the world.” As Lorenzo says, this case was more revelation than inspiration. The realization that someone can fight in court for 2 years, and then just resolve everything in 4 hours by having a mediator’s support. That shifted his perception of what conflict was. After coming back to Paris, Lorenzo decided to spread the word about mediation and teach as many people as possible about better ways of communication, so they would avoid conflict on their own.

After coming back to France, Lorenzo got introduced to the European chapter of Mediators Beyond Borders International by one of his mediation instructors, Sharon Eckstein. “I love being part of MBBI because I share their ideas, and I love meeting people from different cultures. I would like to get involved in more actual mediation and negotiations. It is what makes a difference in other people’s lives, and that is what got me interested. I prefer to take action”. Lorenzo also hopes that the Fulbright Association in France can join forces with MBBI to promote common goals which are raising awareness and cultivate understanding between different cultures.

Misguided Assumptions

When asked about culture in mediation, Lorenzo says that in his opinion a lot of people have a misguided opinion about culture. Usually, factors like citizenship, nationality, religion, or race are perceived as those defining someone’s culture, but what is actually important are all those things that people have in common on a very personal and individual level. “I think that in mediation it is really important to find out about the perception that people have about themselves. To be wary of not making assumptions about people” Lorenzo says. People might identify very differently than we expect them. Of course, there are cultural norms that in some way will apply to representatives of specific countries, but those might be more interesting for sociological or cultural studies. In mediation, you interact with real people, not with cultural or sociological norms. “Those are people who might have a bad day, who might be tired, it might be one of the emotional factors during the mediation”. To illustrate that, Lorenzo presents the example of a business mediation between citizens of two countries who are expected to be stereotypically different but have one thing in common: they are both fathers.

Maybe cultural stereotypes dictate that you should be polite and down-to-business with one of them, but warm and focused on the relationship with the other. And when you fail to have them reach an agreement, you might wrongly assume that you failed because you couldn’t meet both cultural expectations at once -be both down-to-business and focused on the relationship. But maybe the real reason they did not reach an agreement on that day was that they were simply exhausted, after spending the whole night being awake and taking care of their newborns, who would not stop crying. And if they had shared that experience with each other and connected, they might have realized that they had much more in common on a basic human level. And as a result, they might have been more willing to try and work out an agreement. What they had in common -being fathers to newborns- was infinitely stronger than what separated them -being from different countries and cultures. It’s a negotiator’s and a mediator’s job to see that and act accordingly. “Once, my professor, Stuart Diamond, said something that I find very true. People do not expect you to be like them, they expect you to be yourself and be authentic” Lorenzo adds.

Regarding achievements that Lorenzo is especially proud of, he tells the story that did not happen in his professional life, yet he considers this cause as a success in mediation. The obstacle to overcome was to convince a person struck by grief, who was in denial of what happened, to stop seeing fortune tellers, and seek professional therapy. “It took me a whole year, carefully planned, to get that person to go and talk to a therapist. Eventually, that person did go see a therapist and is doing better since then. Getting someone who literally told me that therapists are scam artists, to see a therapist, without trying to manipulate that person, is a success in both personal and professional life.” This is what Lorenzo considers his proudest achievement to date.

Article by Maciej Witek, MBBI Writer