Getting to 'Yes'

Attorney spearheads a ‘Resolution of Conflict’

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

The legal system cannot provide understanding, emotional resolution, repentance and forgiveness, notes Graham Ward, a conflict management counselor and director of the new WMU-Cooley Center for the Study and Resolution of Conflict in Grand Rapids, which teaches business professionals and law students how to rise above conflict and achieve a “win-win” outcome.   

Ward cites the Rolling Stones’ lyrics: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you just might get what you need,” and singer Marvin Gaye’s lyrics, “Talk to me, so you can see, what’s going on.”    
“So simple and so profound,” he says.

“We need a center such as this so that persons can avoid the default, positional, and often dysfunctional approaches we seem to be almost hard-wired to pursue,” Ward continues. “We can spread the word to future lawyers, business people, political and community leaders while students, as well as provide insight for those already in this real world to help them achieve better outcomes with those they interact in conflict.”

Ward’s four goals are to provide historical background, introduce modernized win-win and principled-negotiation concepts, demonstrate various negotiating styles and identify specific conflicts to which certain styles are best suited/applied.

“My interests for the Center are not to do more mediations myself, but to educate a broad group of people and introduce them to so many fine professional mediators many of whom I serve with on the State Bar ADR Council,” he says.   

A Wayne Law alumnus, Ward spent 10 years as a partner and trial lawyer at Dice, Sweeney in Detroit and 12 years as a senior partner at Ward, Anderson in Bloomfield Hills, before stepping away from the stress of trial practice.

He has been an adjunct professor for more than 12 years at all of Cooley’s Michigan campuses, teaching ADR, Negotiation, Interviewing and Counseling and Advanced Business Mediation. 

“It was the best thing which ever happened in my professional life,” he says. 

He teaches and applies many principles of social and behavioral sciences to help understand conflict, and how people address it – “As well as concerns about what I would consider some of the deficiencies of the adversarial process, such as ‘winning’ over ‘truth’ and the surrender of our ability to minimize uncertainty and control the outcome of our problems,” he says.

“No great complaint about judges and juries – just that when properly managed, and with lawyers and mediators trained and understanding of both the science and art of conflict management and decision-making, we can produce resolutions which preserve relationships,” he adds. “Bear in mind most conflict is between persons with pre-existing relationships, of value and length and how we address that can cause more damage than whatever caused the conflict to begin.”

Ward notes resolutions can be achieved with less economic damage, lessen the damage which time inflicts on problem solving, and exercise creativity, which goes well beyond the powers of courts and juries.

“Perhaps most importantly, these resolutions are complied with at a much higher percentage than those ordered or imposed within that adversarial system,” he says. “We might just even see opportunities to improve the status of these persons.”

Ward has seen people fight over what they thought they had agreed on, and risks they should have – but failed – to allocate between contracting parties. 

“People also find themselves battling over how to hurt the other side, such as in a contested divorce with children and spouses who seem more concerned with hurting the other than preserving the marital estate for themselves and the children,” he says.  “We see this same behavior in business divorces – break-ups and mergers gone bad.”

A Detroit native, Ward now makes his home in Pentwater on Michigan’s west coast. “Only one traffic signal in the entire Oceana County – quite the change but good at this time in life,” he says.

He and his wife, a former teacher and now an adjunct professor at Central Michigan University, have three adult sons, two grandsons and two granddaughters –“who are teaching me quite a bit about that ‘fairer gender,’” he says.

He enjoys the occasional round of golf with his sons and grandsons; and in the past, did some “sport flying” of a P-51 Mustang, Stearman, World War planes – “and one interesting flight in a MiG-29 just outside Moscow – seemed like a good idea at the time,” he says.

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