Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Once again we see the nation’s mediator-in-chief at work in the White House, bringing together the two adversaries in a nasty little conflict, not necessarily to resolve the conflict, and definitely not to determine who was right and who was wrong, but simply to begin a dialogue and raise legitimate issues. I did a post on this today on my political blog, where I initially expressed annoyance that the Gates-Crowley incident was distracting our attention from the important policy issues that the nation needs to resolve this year, but then I ultimately decided that a conversation about racial profiling, police procedures, and whether the Gates arrest can be seen as a metaphor for changes happening in our society, might be […]

I attended a well-organized series of panels sponsored by the Southern California Mediation Association designed to further an ongoing debate over whether certification of mediators should be encouraged. There seemed to be a consensus that the time has come to stop just talking about this issue and start doing something about it, but there are still a lot of questions about how to address certification. There is a strong and understandable desire to build some respectability into the field, and to make sure the people who call themselves mediators are qualified to practice. There also seem to be a lot of people who think that the marketplace and the courts and provider organizations seem to be doing an adequate job […]

Often parties to a negotiation will make a certain amount of progress, then get stalled. Each side may have made what they feel are reasonable compromises in their positions, but have arrived at a point that is still distant from the other side’s position. Mediators use various techniques to bridge this gap, which may be as simple as calling a break, or may require getting the parties to consider a mediator’s proposal. I see it as a process of getting both sides to cross a line they did not want to cross before the mediation, and often the way to make them do that is to make them understand that the other side is making a similar leap of faith. […]

Furniture has important symbolic as well as utilitarian functions. In a courtroom, for example, the elevated position of the judge, and the adversarial positions of the parties, both facing and subservient to the judge, are perfectly symbolized and reinforced by the arrangement of the furniture. In a conference room, the person who sits at the head of the table sometimes assumes a similar position of authority. Parties attending a mediation usually expect the mediator to sit at the head of the table, and arrange themselves on each side, facing but often not talking to each other, and often directing their attention to the mediator at the head. To shake up these expectations, I sometimes like to sit to one side […]