I create engaging and interactive online trainings to help participants collaborate in workplace teams. My background is as a high stakes trial lawyer and, more recently, as a mediator and trainer, coaching individuals and organizations communication skills to help them resolve conflicts. Here’s a little bit about how I got to be doing what I’m doing online.
I grew up on the former headquarters of a ranch in south Texas, where Southern “honor culture,” demanded that men respond to insults with violence. Guns were commonplace, and so was hunting. At one point, my father was the town sheriff. On my 10th birthday, he gave me a 22 pistol, and six months later I accidentally shot myself in the leg. During summers, I worked as a cowboy on my parents’ ranch, and the ranches of other family members and friends. I spent long days riding horses and herding cattle alongside Latino ranch hands, many of whose families reached back to before Texas separated from Mexico in 1845. In my own rudimentary way, I began to observe the complicated nuances of class and power among the Anglos and Latinos within and outside my community.
Later, I married, moved to California, received a Masters Degree from UC Berkeley studying global energy policy, began law school and we had our first child. I became a civil trial attorney in the state and federal courts of California. I experienced mediation as a process of threatening and cajoling the parties to reach a settlement. I was involved in cases with millions of dollars in attorney fees. And it seemed to me that most of these expenses could have been avoided by better communication. Something like 95% of all lawsuits settle before trial, and this statistic motivated me to try to find out a way to resolve disputes before all the attorney’s fees were incurred.
When I co-founded a law firm in San Francisco in 1986, I was surprised to discover that one of the most difficult aspects of having the firm was dealing with conflicts between people who worked there. I anticipated the challenge of trying lawsuits but did not anticipate the challenge of dealing with internal conflicts among employees.
I called it “billiard shot communication.” Two people in the firm would get into conflict. And then they wouldn’t talk with each other, but instead would talk with their perceived allies in the firm. This would roil the firm for weeks at a time after each of these episodes. And when I tried to bring the two primary people involved into my office to mediate their conflict, I usually only succeeded in throwing gasoline on the fire.
And so, when I heard there was a man who had a communication model that dealt with conflict, I thought of my encounters in the courts and within my office and began taking courses with Marshall Rosenberg to learn about Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Through the work I did with Rosenberg over the next decade, I grew to see that conflict can be an opportunity for connection.
During these years as a lawyer, I also practiced Zen meditation with Joko Beck, aikido with Wendy Palmer, and yoga with such teachers as B.K.S. Iyengar and my then-wife Judith Hanson Lasater (we co-founded The Yoga Journal in 1975). These pursuits deepened my belief in the importance of connection as a way to reduce conflict on a personal, community, and even global level.
Eventually, I made the decision to leave law in order to pursue work in the field of Nonviolent Communication. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, in early 2002, I traveled to Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan with my colleague John Kinyon to offer Nonviolent Communication-based tools to support the leaders of various ethnic groups represented in the camps (Read more here). Inspired by the effectiveness of our work in Pakistan, and our desire to develop our own program based on our cumulative insights, we co-founded the training company Mediate Your Life in 2003.
Since that time, I’ve facilitated workshops in 20 countries around the world, and I have seen the power of this approach to bridge divides, where none seemed possible. My deepest hope is that we as a species can evolve to change our habitual reaction of blaming, judging, and striking out against the other; through my work, I hope to contribute to this evolution.