CHARLESTON -- As a clinical and forensic psychologist, David Clayman, Ph.D., has written about 3,000 reports used in civil and criminal litigation. He has dedicated 30 years of his professional life to the forensic psychological evaluation field, which makes him quite qualified to answer his own question.
"Have you ever noticed that people will spend $25,000 when they're in trouble, but they won't pay $2,500 when they're not?"
Clayman explained that society is crisis-based, particularly in the health care world where simple and inexpensive things can be done to restrain diseases. However, in this all-or-nothing society, the practice of preventative living is rare.
"When we have the heart attack, get cancer or can't breathe, we will pay just about anything to get those things fixed," he said. "We actually expect and demand the best care ... no matter what the cost."
Switching from medicine to law, could this observation be one of the reasons why conflict resolution strategies are overlooked? Is this why mediation hasn't really caught on?
"Mediation is very well established in both the state and federal court systems," said J. Rudy Martin of Jackson Kelly PLLC. "In fact, almost every case filed in those courts will go to mediation before it is tried. The vast majority of cases filed in both courts settle and never go to trial. However, mediation has not yet come into full bloom outside the litigation context," he said.
Martin believes this is due to a lack of awareness of the many different forms of alternative dispute resolution processes, which can be effective tools in the resolving of problems quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively.
Why do people wait to deal with issues as opposed to handling the signs and symptoms of workplace problems when they first become apparent? Clayman associates this behavior with feelings of denial.
"For many, the internal statement is that something 'won't or can't happen to me'," he said. "They also say to themselves, '... and if it does happen, then I'll deal with it then.'"
Clayman discussed that people don't consider the potential costs of the wait-and-see approach, legal or otherwise.
"Many are willing to play the odds," Clayman said. "People will use any number of strategies to convince themselves that they don't need the expenses of investing in things such as workplace safety upgrades.
"But, when sued, they will do almost anything to get rid of the irritant that causes them pain. This is a time when people will blame others or expect insurance to take care of everything."
Martin agreed. Some business people tend to sweep problems aside until they become too hard to ignore. Two key factors – time and money – are the culprits.
"If a problem goes away on its own, then you save both," Martin said. "But that can be a very big 'if'."
In health care, doctors devote countless hours to education, informing patients on medical services and screenings that detect the onset of serious illnesses and conditions, which could alter their quality of life. In business, such tests also exist, but the promotion of these services poses challenges for legal professionals.
Which is harder to market -- litigation (the disaster) or alternative dispute resolution (the potential for one)?
"Both are difficult to market because both suggest a problem exists," Martin declared. "Both suggest spending money as opposed to making money. When mediators, or more broadly, neutrals and litigators show up, it means the wheels have fallen off something and no one wants to think about that, much less deal with it."
Either way, there is money to be made from the quirks of human behavior. Waiting rooms and reception areas are full of people with a common problem – they gag on gnats and swallow camels.