Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Joshua Goldstein has an article in Foreign Policy (and apparently a book coming out on this topic) in which he proves that, as President Obama announced in June, and contrary to popular belief, the tide of war in fact is receding, and has been for some time. Compared even to the 1990’s, we are seeing about half the number of deaths worldwide from war. The U.S. has substantially reduced troop levels in places like Korea and Europe, and when withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan are finally complete, will have fewer troops abroad than at any time since the 1930’s. There are far fewer civilian casualties from war than in decades past. Some intractable conflicts (e.g., Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kashmir) have […]

I received a mediation brief a few weeks ago from the plaintiffs’ side in a contractual dispute. The brief contained a detailed description of the parties’ agreement, a recitation of the elements of each one of the various causes of action in the complaint, a calculation of the damages due under the contract, including precise interest calculations, and an explanation of why attorneys’ fees were recoverable. It also attached the relevant contractual documents as exhibits. Sounds like as much as any mediator could wish for, right? What else would I possibly want to know about the plaintiff’s position? It turned out, however, when I saw the defendant’s brief, that nothing in the plaintiff’s brief was seriously contested. The real problem […]

A cartoon in the New Yorker a couple of months ago showed a family lost in the jungle. The father, scratching his chin, is saying, “OK, I admit it, we’re lost. But the important thing is to remain focused on whose fault it is.” I’m thinking of getting a framed copy to hang in my caucus room. Frequently the task in a mediation is to get the parties away from focusing on recriminations and blame for how they got themselves into their situation, and toward focusing on possible solutions to their conflict. It might be helpful for people to look at this picture, which enables us to see how obviously ridiculous it is for a family lost in the jungle […]

We’re starting to hear outrage from both the left and the right in response to the debt ceiling deal that leaders of both parties have made on Sunday.  We’re being assured by the usual gang of pundits that this outrage from the most partisan members on both sides demonstrates that the deal is probably fair. It reminds me of something that a lot of mediators like to say, which is that if both parties are unhappy with a proposed settlement, that probably means that it is fair. As a mediator, I never like to use that line. Why would I want people to leave unhappy?  I prefer to try to persuade parties to a conflict that they should feel good about the settlement they are making. I […]