Theodore W. Kheel, 1914 – 2010

The New York Times has a wonderful obituary of Theodore W. Kheel, labor mediator and arbitrator extraordinaire.  In today’s lexicon you might say he was the Kenneth Feinberg of his day (1950s – 1980s) as Mr. Kheel was involved in many high profile labor disputes.   What mediator wouldn’t love to have this description in their obit:

In a flood of articles hailing his successes at resolving myriad conflicts, he was described as “the most influential peacemaker in New York City in the last half-century” and the “master locksmith of deadlock bargaining.” In 1970, The New Yorker called him “the one man best able to keep in working order a substantial portion of the sputtering labor machinery not only in New York City, but over much of the Eastern Seaboard.”

And this is what I call mediator strategy:

“The essence of mediation is getting information,” Mr. Kheel once told The New Yorker. “The dirtiest question you can ask in bargaining is ‘What will you settle for?’ If you ask that question, you ought to resign, but that’s the question you must have an answer to. You get it by asking every question except that. What’s left over is the answer.”

Rest in peace, and thanks for laying the foundations for our profession.

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