Greg Parent Encapsulates Diversity of Thought and Flexibility While Proudly Representing Carolina Blue
“Give me a smart communicator with high emotional intelligence who is an intuitive thinker over someone with just some knowledge of the law,” says Gregory J. Parent.
That’s the definition for the mediator he strives to be every time he steps into the room to meet the parties at the start of a mediation. They are also the traits he admires in his peers at Miles Mediation & Arbitration, whether in Atlanta, Charlotte, or Savannah. That may be easier for him to say because he cuts a formidable figure, with years of practice as a full-time mediator and a bevy distinguishing awards under his belt.
His friends call him Greg, and that’s how he will introduce himself to the participants of a mediation, while also seeking their permission to use their first names, too. The familiarity of using first names, he reasons, puts everyone at ease. And he’s great at making people feel comfortable. His ability to observe, communicate, and build rapport with multiple parties at once is an almost inherent trait.
While he may be known for the Carolina-blue stitching in his suits and his uncanny ability to recall movie quotes and 80’s music lyrics, what separates Greg is his focus and preparation. He knows first hand the importance of studying, reviewing, and learning the subject matter in advance of the mediation.
He is also a huge fan of discussing more complicated or weighty issues with the parties via telephone or a Zoom conference even after digesting their written materials.
Greg’s approach to mediation is grounded in relaxed conversation. Mediators are the figures that can both lead a mediation, but also be self-aware and sensitive enough to know when they should just hang back and observe from the margins.
“I liken our role to that of a late night talk show host. If you’ve ever watched Jimmy Fallon interview someone like Dave Chappelle, all he has to do is throw up a softball question and watch as Chappelle shines. If Fallon interviews someone who is not a famous star, however, you’ll see him carry the conversation in a complementary way. Basically, he will do whatever is needed to comfortably draw people out and keep the conversation going.”
And what Greg “needs to do to draw people out” comes down to some specific tactics that are the baseline for his style and are central to his role as a mediator.
As a former Journalism major, observing people and discerning the subtle gaps between what they say and what they mean comes second-nature to Greg. He confesses that there’s nothing more rewarding to him than overcoming the challenge of getting two groups of people together on the same page at the end of the process.
Greg is certainly exhaustive in his approach to uncovering the facts, considering every possible angle by asking the “5 W’s” that are a part of every good journalist’s arsenal. The manner in which he elicits information is usually done in such a subtle offhand manner that people readily open up for him in ways that they might not during a tactical cross examination. Carefully listening to answers helps inform the process and path a mediation may take. Nothing is scripted but rather the tone and pace of the mediation is fitted to the plaintiff and that individual’s capacity for understanding of the process.
This is how Greg figures out what parties are communicating, and even more importantly in some cases, what they’re not communicating. From here, he can advance to what they’re really intending. And when you marry his distinct methodology with his legal background, the result is an entirely effective, if not idiosyncratic, approach to mediation.
“As a mediator, you must speak to people across diverse educational and class backgrounds. You have to have empathy for who you’re talking to so you can learn how to be efficient in building trust and rapport. I spend as much time as needed to let participants know where I am coming from to show that I am on the same page with them. Sometimes, it can be as simple as an ice breaker talking about football or old movies. Essentially, mediators should tailor their communication style in a manner that helps the parties feel empowered. And they should always treat everyone in a manner that respects their dignity.”
Communicating in Relatable Terms
When mediating cases, Greg sets expectations very clearly. He’s upfront with all parties, letting them know he is there to work hard for them. But he also explains that he is only as effective as the information they reveal and share with him.
Greg is careful to direct all explanations and ground rules towards the plaintiff. Whether it’s something as simple and subtle as letting them know where they can find amenities for the day, or it’s the process of directly addressing them within the mediation, Greg’s aim is to demonstrate to the plaintiff that they’re in control.
Doing so reduces anxiety and helps the plaintiff make the mediation space and the mediation process their ally. Greg is fond of saying that people don’t care what you know until you show them that you care.
“Initially, I may say something like, ‘I can’t fathom what it’s like to be in your shoes, losing someone your husband in such a horrific accident. I promise you that I am going to do my best to help ensure that today is the last day that you ever have to talk about this accident. My hope is that after today, you and your family will be able to grieve and celebrate your husband’s legacy without the cloud of pending litigation hanging over your head.’ When a mediator relates to the human condition and reveals their compassion in such a direct way, parties and even fellow professionals will feel trust in both the mediator and the process. This trust is earned by demonstrating respect for both the parties and their circumstances.”
A huge component of trust means that the mediator becomes the conduit to share information. Oftentimes such information is intertwined with complex legal, contractual, or medical terminology. Greg takes pride in reducing anxiety for the parties by delivering information in relatable, digestible portions which are informative without being intimidating. Good mediators can synthesize and repackage information in a way that brings parties together, rather than pull them apart.
Playing to his Strengths
Part of Greg’s unique strengths as a mediator come from his past work history as a claims adjuster, a defense attorney, and a plaintiff’s attorney. While he’s naturally observant, his 28 years of experience provide insights that help him uncover the true intentions of all parties. Because of this prescient awareness, Greg is adept at pushing people beyond their comfort zone in a manner that is conducive towards resolution.
One common lament that Greg hears about competitors is that some mediators don’t try hard enough toexhaustively drive resolution and outcomes for all parties. Greg has found that people appreciate his dogged determination. Based on his commitment, parties have a sense that they can trust his expertise and guidance.
“I’m the only mediator in Georgia who has been a claims adjuster, a defense attorney, and a plaintiff’s attorney. That gives me a leg up in every mediation as soon as I walk into the room. Immediately I have something in common with all of the professionals gathered. Additionally, the breadth and depth of my experience accelerates the building of rapport with plaintiffs. More often than not, I hear some variation of the following statement from a plaintifft: ‘I want to hear from this person who knows everyone and has done everyone’s job; you’ve got my attention.’”
Mediation Requires Diversity of Thought and Flexibility
Greg observes that diversity of thought has always been important in mediation. When exposed to different ways of thinking, people can begin to re-examine their own inherent biases and perspectives. It’s a practice that’s perfectly aligned with the process of mediation, since the simple act of being able to “walk a mile in another’s shoes,” or acknowledge their pain and personal experience is part of the journey towards resolution.
Diversity, coupled with flexibility, in approaching mediation has certainly benefitted Greg in covering all their bases. Throughout a mediation, the mediator may be called upon to wear different hats and provide different perspectives to help enlighten the parties or counter a faulty argument. One hour a party might need a gentle touch like that of clergy or a therapist. Other times, a supportive stance like a best friend or parental figure may be needed. And other times, especially at the end of a long and emotionally taxing mediation, a party may need a kick in the pants like a tough-love coach or firm but thoughtful, caring teacher.
To really hit the point home, Greg makes a poignant metaphor.
“The game of golf doesn’t call for the same club across the course. Instead, there are 15 different clubs in a bag. Every club, whether it’s a driver, wedge, hybrid, or putter does something completely different. So why wouldn’t we expect diversity of thought and adaptive flexibility to be of paramount relevance in a mediation?”
That world of mediation is evolving every day. In the past ten years, Greg has seen many changes and has adapted and honed his skills to roll with the changes. In this most disruptive of years, mediations in 2020 have morphed in unique ways due to necessities brought on by the pandemic. Fortunately, many have been able to incorporate and rely upon emerging virtual tools like Zoom—yet the fundamentals and core principles of mediation remain the same.
In order to have a successful mediation, parties will always need a mediator who can foster trust and communicate effectively with everyone involved in a direct manner that leads to resolution.