Patience: A Negotiation (and Accessibility) Strategy

Last week I delivered the annual Lawrence Lecture at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University (OSU). My talk was titled: “Forget the Shark, Be a Dolphin Instead.” The focus was captured in the sub-title “Advancing client interests with collaborative negotiating tools.”

It was fun presenting to a room full of students and faculty interested in doing law differently, making law better (#MakeLawBetter). And it is always a joy to share stories from my book, Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits. Stories about how the blind community and some of the country’s largest corporations have worked collaboratively for over two decades to advance accessibility to the digital world.

This post is about one slide in my presentation at OSU: The slide reminding participants about the value of patience. Patience, a dolphin quality rarely valued in the shark-culture of the traditional legal system.

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What is Active Patience?

Patience has played a critical role in the success of Structured Negotiation over the years. In practicing a dispute resolution system without court rules, discovery, or a judge’s gavel looming over the proceedings, the parties must learn to trust and respect each other. Patience is crucial.

If someone doesn’t answer an email on time, or if a promised technology is not delivered as expected, patience is the difference between walking away and getting to the desired goal.

With digital accessibility, where Structured Negotiation put down roots, patience recognizes that accessible technology — technology disabled people can use — does not appear with the wave of a magic wand. Or a one-time license promising a quick fix.

Accessibility works when it is baked in with policies and processes designed to ensure that the next release doesn’t break what came before. Accessibility sticks when disabled people are involved throughout; when transparency is a value; when digital inclusion is a cultural value of an institution. Active patience contributes to the success of accessibility programs, just as it contributes to the success of negotiations on any topic.

I call the patience needed in negotiation and accessibility “active patience.” Active because it is not keeping your fingers crossed and doing nothing. Active because it is following up with emails and phone calls and meetings until the deliverable is delivered. Active because patience requires the persistence to hold on to the ultimate goal, even if first steps seem far from it.

Learning Patience from a Surfer, a Rose, an Octopus

The three images on my Active Patience Slide, illustrating this post, are designed to help all of us cultivate this trait. (Yes – patience can be learned!)

Chose a patience image that resonates with you; that can be a spur to being patient. Have a different patience concept? Contact me because I’d love to hear about it.

Rumi sees a rose

The image of the rose is intended to invoke this quote from the famous Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, often referred to as Rumi:

Patience is not sitting and waiting, it is foreseeing. It is looking at the thorn and seeing the rose, looking at the night and seeing the day. Lovers are patient and know that the moon needs time to become full.Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, Persian poet and Sufi master (1207 -1273)

In a negotiation about inclusive technology, I know that giving large organizations needed time to train staff on the elements of accessibility is a critical step toward technology that works for everyone. I look to the end result to support the patience needed to get there.

Derek Rabelo is patient in the middle of the ocean

Derek Rabelo is a third generation big wave surfer from Brazil. He’s also blind. Several years ago while looking for images to represent patience someone suggested a surfer, who must wait patiently for a wave. On a whim I entered “blind surfer” into the search engine and up popped Derek. He now has pride of place on the active patience slide.

As I said during the OSU talk — if Derek Rabelo can be patient in the middle of the ocean waiting for his next wave, surely lawyers can learn to be patient when an email isn’t received on time.

An octopus waits

The third image on the Active Patience slide is of an octopus. A deep sea octopus that sits on her eggs for 53 months, and then dies.

I think of the octopus when I’m frustrated that a negotiation is not moving faster; when I’m stymied by slow progress toward full accessibility.

I know from 20+ years of experience that Structured Negotiation is a path to a successful, client-centered results. And I know the negotiation strategies that comprise the Structured Negotiation process, whether used by lawyers and clients or by internal teams, can support organizations to become dedicated to accessibility.

This octopus, this hugely sacrificing mother, found and monitored for all those months in Monterey Bay, California, reminds me that active patience is an inherent part of the process.

Other Dolphin Qualities

two smiling dolphinsWhen I wrote Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits I put the chapter about patience and other elements of the Structured Negotiation mindset at the back of the book. I was afraid that an opening chapter talking about patience, equanimity, trust and listening would scare away potential readers.

Maybe it would have. But now that I write and talk about negotiation qualities as dolphin qualities, I have more confidence. Dolphins communicate, cooperate, and as we know from Flipper, they get the job done. Quietly and without conflict they get the job done.

Law students, lawyers, and other advocates deserve to know that being a shark is not a requirement of advocacy. That civil rights, including the rights of people with disabilities to access the digital world, can be achieved with collaborative (dolphin) skills too.

In addition to patience, being a dolphin means practicing good listening skills. Knowing that listening is not just waiting for the other person to stop speaking so you can start.

Dolphin skills recognize the value of small steps toward to bigger goal, something I learned when praising the first of a bank’s five Talking ATMs even though we wanted our path to end at thousands of Talking ATMs. It did.

Dolphin skills include trust, equanimity, optimism, and appreciation. Appreciation for those first five Talking ATMs or first 10 accessible pedestrian signals or usable webpages, like appreciation for a good poached egg, makes everyone want to do more.

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I offer talks trainings about dolphin skills, the digital accessibility legal space, the importance of accessible procurement and other lessons learned from 20+ years of practicing law with collaboration over conflict. Doing a four hour workshop this year in Basque Country taught me yet again that both accessibility and collaboration are global. Visit the Talks and Training page for more information.