Faculty Spotlight: Lydia Nussbaum

Friday, November 16, 2018
Lydia Nussbaum, Associate Professor of Law and Mediation Clinic Director

What are you working on now?

I just finished an article about the consequences of professional burnout in mediators (Mediator Burnout, forthcoming in the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution). I draw upon research findings from the fields of organizational management and occupational psychology to demonstrate that mediators are susceptible to burnout and that the symptoms of burnout undermine fundamental principles of quality mediation, thereby endangering parties’ access to justice. For example, a burned-out mediator may exhibit narrow and uncreative thinking, diminished capacity to regulate emotions, compromised decision-making, and deficits in attention and memory. I argue that the mediation community, when crafting mediation quality controls, needs to account for the stressors presented by mediators’ diverse work environments and do a better job of protecting good mediators from burning out.
What do you do during the writing process that others might find odd?

I struggle with unstructured time. I can easily fritter away hours responding to emails, checking news headlines, catching up on phone calls, and remembering to order that new replacement can opener... And, writing projects necessitate long stretches of time, undivided attention, and discipline. 

In order to be productive, I have to create structure and banish distractions, resulting in some weird practices. For example, I give my cell phone to my husband and tell him to silence it, put on “do not disturb,” and hide it somewhere. On my computer, internet browsers, email, and messaging apps are closed and all desktop notifications turned off. I set a kitchen timer for a “power hour” (60 minutes) and I don’t let myself up out of my desk chair for any reason—no wandering down the hallway to refill my glass of water or get a sweatshirt or see about that funny noise. At the end of a power hour, if I am in a good writing rhythm, then I keep going as long as I can. If my concentration is drifting, then I allow myself a 15-minute break to play online Tetris and listen to disco. Only when I am ready to call it quits for the day do I allow myself to check email, texts, and news headlines. It may be odd but it works!

What should students read right now?

Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration—Lessons from The Second City by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton.

As any fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway will remember, “Yes, And” is a central maxim of improv comedy: when presented with a scenario by your partner, you must accept what your partner has stated and then add-on to it with your own improvisation. You cannot negate your partner’s premise, nor can s/he reject your contribution.

Leonard and Yorton’s book applies this rule of improv (and many others) to the business world and I think it also has value for lawyers. So much of our legal training teaches us how to make “No, But” arguments that differentiate our client’s position from an opponent’s. While this adversarial approach makes sense in the courtroom, where lawyers are doing their best to win over a third-party arbiter, it can backfire when negotiating settlements or when working in a team with colleagues. A “No, But” approach can shut down creative lines of inquiry and make people feel defensive and uncooperative. Next time you are having a conversation or a debate, try scrubbing “but” from your vocabulary and use “yes, and” in its place—see if it makes a difference to the tenor and outcome of the conversation.

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