At last week’s Small Claims Mediator meeting, Court Mediation Program Consultant Yuki Matsuno encouraged the group to reflect on our individual approaches to mindfulness in mediation. How do you prepare yourself for mediation to ensure you are in the right frame of mind to be curious rather than judgmental? How do ensure that you remain mindful of your own biases, needs and personal reactions throughout the mediation, and ensure that you are focused and in-the-moment with the parties? Hearing the suggestions and experiences of my fellow mediators was a great opportunity to pick up new ideas and I am looking forward to hearing more as Yuki (and others) continues to probe this important area of mediator development.

As part of the discussion, I offered one of my own practices for preparation: I have four different “conflict resolution” playlists on my iPod that are created just to play on the way to mediations to get me into the right frame of mind. Time was short, but I was asked for a bit more detail about what kind of music goes into a mediation playlist and agreed to put my thoughts into a blog post.

What I realized as I started to think about this post is just how personally attuned a playlist can be!  I realized in skimming my own selections that I have a moderate number of “explicit” songs, that certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, as well as a fairly broad range of musical styles (pretty much everything from country through hip hop with some children’s tunes along the way).  That comes from generally emphasizing lyrics over musical style: I have lots of songs that tell stories of conflict, misunderstandings, and power dynamics.  Having given the project a bit more thought, I’ve decided that rather than try to share my own playlists, I’ll provide some ideas about the categories of songs I choose, with a few examples of songs/artists that might be less well known to my colleagues.  (I might as well take the opportunity to encourage new listeners for The Doubleclicks, Jonathan Coulton and Todd Snider to increase the chances of more frequent local concerts!)

Feel Good Songs

This category is both too personal and too obvious to spend much time exploring, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that songs that lift your mood can, without any further consideration, form a great mediation playlist. Fill with your own favourite uplifting tunes.

Whole Negotiations in Song

This category of songs collects musical tales of negotiations.  Typically written as a “persuasive” argument presented by one party, these songs might demonstrate flawed negotiation skills (e.g Flight of the Conchords “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room”) or be highly effective tools of negotiation themselves (e.g. Dave Carroll’s “United Breaks Guitars”).

  • I am sure that many readers have come across Jonathan Coulton’s brilliant negotiation song “Re: Your Brains”.  If not, it should be on everyone’s negotiation playlist.  (Scroll to “Thing a Week Two”, last song at
  • The Parking Ticket” song from Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s musical episode, “Once More with Feeling”.
  • Todd Snider is my favourite artist for nuanced reflections on conflict and conflict resolution (so much so that I’m planning to write a full academic paper on his work in relation to law).  One of his most explicit negotiation tales is “Is This Thing Working”, the story of a high school student standing up to a bully.

Poor Communication Skills

I find that playing songs that depict poor communication skills – especially songs that demonstrate a misunderstanding based on mistaken assumptions – is a fun way to start my brain thinking about people speaking at cross-purposes or creating discord through less than effective approaches to negotiation – the “picking a fight” songs (e.g. A very wide range of songs that focus on blaming or threatening from such classics as Hank Williams Sr.’s “You’re Gonna Change or I’m Gonna Leave” through to Kate Nash’s repeated and no doubt ineffective demand simply to stop being a “D******d” (Warning: very explicit lyrics that may offend) and perhaps including such Canadian standards as The Arrogant Worms’ gloating tale of “The War of 1812”.)

  • Jonathan Coulton has a song about the negotiation between a mad scientist and his captive on “Skullcrusher Mountain” that speaks to both the difficulty powerful (privileged) parties can experience in appreciating power imbalances and the dangers of assuming that everyone shares the same (dominant) values.  One verse provides a wonderful example of a party making mistaken assumptions about another’s interests:

I made this half-pony, half-monkey monster to please you,
But I get the feeling that you don’t like it.
What’s with all the screaming?
You like monkeys, you like ponies.
Maybe you don’t like monsters so much.
Maybe I used too many monkeys.
Isn’t it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?”

             (Scroll to “Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow”, 2nd song at

  • The Doubleclicks’ “Ironically” reflects a woman’s dawning realization that she has misunderstood her boyfriend’s interest in her as a result of assuming he approaches love the same way she does.  (The song might also fit into the next category – Cultural Misunderstanding – in this case between hipsters and nerds.)
  •  “I Think My Roommate Is a Demon with a Soul” by Megan Gogerty is likely to appeal only to folks who watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it certainly captures the danger of drawing conclusions from a person’s actions as seen through one’s own biased lens.

Cultural Misunderstanding

This a rich category of conflict songs since it can be interpreted in at least two ways: a) Songs that are themselves cultural clashes of a musical variety (any of Dollie De Luxe’s Rock versus Opera numbers) or re-imaginings of classic songs in new genres (Hayseed Dixie playing anything by AC/DC) or fortunate but unlikely combinations of musical styles (Barleyjuice’s “Scottish Samba”); or b) lyrics of cultural misunderstanding (e.g. 10CC’s “Dreadlock Holiday”).

  • The Doubleclicks “Noob Cannon” may be obscure to non-gamers, but is specifically about a newbie who doesn’t understand the culture of the game s/he has entered and is inadvertently making all the other players furious:

“Welcome to our server, Leetboi92
I don’t know if we have ever played with you
10 seconds in the round and I’m already dead
You killed me with one shot but it wasn’t in the head”

  •  The same group’s “Oh, Mr. Darcy” is may be more broadly accessible.  Again, the song speaks to misunderstandings based on culture – in this case, an assumption that all aloof men with English accents must be wonderful.
  •  The Guild’s “I’m the One That’s Cool” might just be a feel good song for the geek crowd, but it’s also a fun reflection on high school conflicts and the changing rules of “cool”.  (Warning: Some explicit language).

Power Dynamics

In addition to “Skullcrusher Mountain” (see above), I play a wide range of songs that reflect power dynamics in one way or another.

  • “My Dad’s a Lawyer” from Vancouver singer/songwriter/accordion player Geoff Berner is a pithy statement of power dynamics and the privileged position of lawyers (and their children).  It’s also the only song I know that threatens “You’re gonna get your wages garnisheed.”
  • Todd Snider’s “Lookin’ for a Job” is one of the few songs I’ve heard that captures the power in nothing-to-lose.

“You can’t talk to me like that, boss,
  I don’t care who you are.
  If you don’t want to have to hang your own drywall,
  Don’t push me too far.”

  •  Carolyn Dawn Johnson’s “Love and Negotiation” fits neatly in this category with lyrics like:

Jenny’s got Jack tacked up on her freezer;
Jack’s got Jenny in the back of his mind.
She’d do anything to see him:
He’ll see her when he’s got time…

You Say Tomato…

When you take the time to look for them, it’s surprising how many songs emphasize just how different two people can be.  From the classic “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” to the very recent “Will They or Won’t They?”, this category of songs could form a whole conflict playlist of its own.

  • A lesser known favourite of mine is “Conservative, Christian, Right-Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males” by Todd Snider.  While many CCRRSWAMs hear this song as an attack, I’ve always heard it as a satirical play on two stereotypes and the very notion of either/or politics.  The “tree-hugging, peace-loving, pot-smoking, porn-watching, lazy ass hippie” is just as much a stereotype as the titular conservative, and just as much satirized by the song for his desire to blame everything on CCRRSWAMs.

Specific Case Types

Depending on your mediation practice area, you might also want to create specific subject matter playlists.  Family law is especially easy: there are endless country songs about divorce (most obviously Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, but also such classic tunes as Kitty Wells’ “Will Your Lawyer Talk to God?”, Mark Chestnutt’s “Goin’Through the Big D”, and Jerry Reed’s “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)”.  Even Marvin Gaye sings about divorce in “You Can Leave, But It’s Gonna Cost You.” Personally, I’m partial to Todd Snider’s pre-nuptial song, “Just in Case”.  And of course there are songs about child protection (e.g. Todd Snider, again, with “You Think You Know Somebody”), torts litigation (e.g. Tod Barrett’s “Redneck Lawyer”, Chuck Brodsky, “Talk to My Lawyer”), labour negotiations, although these tend to be very partial to either union or management which may not be the ideal warm-up for the mediator (e.g See the list of Essential Labor Songs, or the entire album in IWW Rebel Voices – Songs of the Industrial Workers of the World…”) and any other area of practice you might seek.

Guest blogger Sharon Sutherland is Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law at Allard Hall teaching Ethics and Professionalism, the clinical Mediation Program and the Judicial Externship, She welcomes comments and ideas for future playlists.