Neutral Spotlight: Colleen Byers


When Colleen Byers starts a mediation, she works under a principle that probably isn’t top of mind for frustrated parties at the negotiating table.

“We are all connected to each other. We’ve just forgotten it.”

As an experienced litigation attorney who also holds an MBA and certifications in executive coaching and yoga teaching, Colleen pulls the best tools from each of those disciplines and weaves them into what she likes to call a “beautiful braid” during negotiations.

At the heart of her ADR philosophy is how she builds trust, and ultimately better outcomes for her clients, by showing up as her authentic and empathetic self.

Colleen became a neutral after years working in civil litigation, starting her own practice before joining the Alterity ADR panel.

As a litigator, Colleen recalls one particular high profile case where, from a legal perspective, she achieved the best possible outcome in court for her client. But when she turned to look at her client’s face, all she saw was disappointment and deflation. Colleen then came to a realization.

“I wanted solutions that actually worked for people instead of ones that were just imposed upon people,” she says. “I am not interested in Band-Aids.”

As part of her preparation for a case, one of Alterity’s tenets of #GreatADR, Colleen draws on her yoga practice and meditates before starting a mediation session. This clears her head to be present to the matter at hand and her clients. This ensures listening, another #GreatADR tenet. 

“The key to building sustainable solutions that actually work for the parties is to not just go with the first thing at the surface, but to get deeper,” Colleen says. “And the only way to get deeper is to make sure that people really feel heard and understood, valued, safe, to share that deeper stuff, to then see where the common ground is and to try to build a solution.”

Colleen’s nonjudgmental style gives freedom and space for parties to express themselves.

“How do I break down the barriers between us that are causing us to not see each other?” she often challenges herself. 

Colleen’s mindfulness even extends to informal breaks during mediation when the party may choose to confer with their lawyer privately. In those rare moments, she’ll either meditate or review her mediation notes, seeking to find a new way to solve the dispute. 

“I am not checking email for a different matter,” she said, noting that when she is involved in a mediation, she is completely present until the parties are able to reach a resolution.

After becoming a mother, Colleen began “ruthlessly prioritizing” her time so she could maximize the time outside of work with her children. Just as she aligned her mind with her body on the yoga mat, she realized her career needed to align with her values and priorities off the yoga mat.

“I’ve always been a peacemaker. I did it as a child in my family. I did it on the playground. I did it when my friend in eighth grade was being bullied. I went to law school with the goal of advocating for the underdog,” Colleen says.

“I began my legal career by advocating in the litigation arena. Then I realized that wasn’t the arena that I wanted to serve in anymore. I wanted to serve in a different arena.”

As a neutral, she feels rewarded, like when one paralegal told her she had a “magical ability to solve even the most contentious matters” or the times when an attorney confided in her at the end of mediation that they had no idea how she settled the case. And especially the time a party hugged her after she informed them that they had reached a deal. 

“I never had that happen as a litigator,” Colleen says.

She feels it’s important that other lenses and perspectives are represented at the negotiation table, which is one of the reasons she joined the Alterity panel founded by Marcie Dickson, and her mission to diversify ADR.

Recently, Colleen recalls finishing a mediation and noticing that all the attorneys and the neutral were women. Never before and never since has that happened, she says. 

“If we are all looking at something the same way and we are clearly stuck, it doesn’t do any good to double down and keep looking at it the same way, we’re just going to get more stuck,” Colleen says. Being intentional about acknowledging each party’s perspective is fundamental to finding an optimal solution.

“While I think it is possible to get to solutions without the parties feeling seen and heard, I’m interested in better and more sustainable solutions. And I think that those solutions cannot happen unless we first ensure that the parties feel seen, heard, and understood.”

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