Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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I had a chance to hear William Ury, best-known as co-author of Getting to Yes, speak this weekend at the SCMA fall conference. One of the things he talked about was seeing yourself as your own worst enemy in a negotiation. Or as he put it, listening to yourself as a pre-requisite to being ready to listen to others. Ury gave as an example a meeting he had with Hugo Chavez, when he was president of Venezuela. Ury was brought in to advise the president on dealing with growing conflict within that country, that was threatening to erupt into civil war. But when he presumed to tell the president what he thought was going on in that country, Ury found […]

Last week it was revealed that movie producer Harvey Weinstein has a long history of accusations of sexual harassment. His namesake company fired him. In response, Weinstein composed an apology letter, in which he promised to “conquer my demons” and make amends to people he has harmed. At the same time, however, Weinstein threatened to sue the New York Times over the accuracy of the original story reporting his transgressions. Does that action call into question the sincerity of his apology? Does it help or hinder Weinstein’s claimed commitment to resolve this issue? Secretary of State Tillerson revealed recently that the US has various back channels of communication with North Korea, and that we are pursuing negotiations with that country to […]

In my sometimes over-simplified way of looking at negotiated agreements, I have argued that the most useful way to evaluate a potential deal is to compare it to alternatives that are actually available. Do not compare it to the deal that you think your side is entitled to, but instead compare it to whatever is likely to happen if you don’t make a deal. When nations are considering entering into peace treaties or trade agreements, for example, it’s generally not helpful to evaluate their benefits by comparing them to the best agreement your side might want. Instead look at whether the deal on the table is a better alternative than not making any deal at all. The same with settlements of […]

I had a chance at the SXSW Interactive Conference this week, to attend an introductory session on how the principles of the martial art of Aikido can be applied to resolving workplace and other conflicts. The presenters used the symbols of sword, shield and withdrawal to illustrate three basic ways of initiating or responding to conflict. For example, someone pushing toward your center can be met with a counter-thrust, or a block, or by running away. When we practiced learning how to recognize these attacks and responses, it almost felt like a game of rock-paper-scissors. Our choices might be dictated by our own instinctive approaches to conflict, or by our perceptions of what would work best against our opponent. Aikido […]

You want to know about us? The kind of people you can trust, that’s us. Reputable people. About them, they are the ones who caused the problem, not us. The thing about us, is that we’re right. We did nothing wrong. OK, maybe we made a few mistakes, and the biggest mistake we made was probably getting involved with them. But for the most part, we’re right. As for them, they betrayed our trust. They took advantage of us. They cheated us. We don’t want anything to do with them any more. We just want them to admit they were wrong, pay us back, and leave us alone. But even if they did that, how could we trust them? They’ll […]

Yesterday, President Trump had a contentious call with Prime Minister Turnbull of Australia, in which he questioned a deal made by the Obama administration for the United States to accept a number of refugees currently held in detention by Australia, indicating we might not honor it. Other government officials spent the day trying to smooth over the disruptive and aggressive conduct of our new president. What is ironic is that Australia has long had a much tougher and more racist immigration policy than the US. We detain people claiming refugee status until their cases are determined, but Australia refuses to allow even people who have been deemed refugees to set foot on the mainland, so they remain in deplorable conditions […]