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The history of dispute resolution, mediation and arbitration

Mediator David Tanzman: One of a Kind

“During World War II, David Tanzman fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Europe, was promoted to a chaplain administrator, arranged Gen. George S. Patton’s funeral and conducted the first High Holiday services in Heidelberg, Germany, after the war. When the war ended, Tanzman worked first as a government messenger in Washington DC and later he worked for the National Defense Mediation Board and the National Wage Stabilization Board. In September 1948, he relocated to Detroit to join the newly established Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.”[1]

In 1953, David with two other very junior mediators in the Detroit office wrote a historic document that named and described 120 mediation techniques. Their document was titled: “The Federal Mediator: his responsibilities, functions and techniques.” It can be found on my website ( under Documents and then FMCS History.

Some retired mediators will remember David’s “Nine Dots Exercise?” David used it to challenge parties to think outside the box. He’d put nine dots on flip chart in three rows of three dots. Then he’d ask participants to draw a continuous line through all the dots with no more that four angles in the line. Most participants would draw their line through dots on the edge and miss the center dot. Finally, David would demonstrate how to include all nine dots by going outside the box.

David had a lot of truisms about mediation that he liked to share with new mediators. Here’s one I remember: The receiver is the key: you must communicate with the receiver in a manner the receiver can understand.

David was the first mediator I heard talk about a 360 degree mediator, which meant a mediator who does the entire mediator job – mediating dispute, but also preventive mediation, that is helping labor and management during the term of the labor agreement to solve problems and improve their relationship.

David told me a few months before he died that a Detroit labor lawyer named Rodger Webb had been interviewing him on Sunday afternoons for months about his career. I helped Webb get copies of my interviews of David. Webb plans to write something on David. I hope readers in Detroit alert me when he does.

It is probably no surprise to anyone who knew David that my longest recorded interview in one sitting was David’s interview, eight 90-minute cassettes. He was a talker.

Before retiring from FMCS, David founded the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR)[2], an early organization of labor-management dispute resolvers.

After retiring from FMCS, he began a new career as an arbitrator, becoming a member of the National Academy of Arbitrators, as well as Chair of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

[1] Detroit Jewish News (February 2015). David was a very religious man and was a Cantor in his Synagogue.

[2] SPIDR merged with The Association of Conflict Rresolution.

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