Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Can negotiations hinder conflict resolution? Think about the stalled peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and how many proposals keep getting floated on an almost-daily basis to attempt to resolve the conflict. Somebody comes up with a new formula for peace, and somebody else immediately denounces the idea. One side holds out what they describe as an olive branch, and the other side responds that the proposal just proves they are not serious. Third parties urge the parties to resume negotiations, but the conditions never quite seem right for a breakthrough. All of this suggests that negotiations are not the only the path to peace, and might even create obstacles to reaching an agreement. Recognizing that the disputes that I […]

Mediators often become evangelists for negotiated resolution of conflict, believing mediation or other forms of diplomacy to be superior to all other forms of conflict resolution in all circumstances, and with the potential of solving all problems. We should probably be more humble. We should understand that some conflicts cannot be resolved at all, and some can only be resolved by other means. President Obama, who most of the time stands for making every effort to achieve consensus, and who even won the Nobel Peace Prize(!), reminded us of that with his announcement last night that he had ordered, and the military had carried out, the killing of Osama Bin Laden. In this case, we were dealing with a character […]

I spent the day Sunday watching and judging high school debate, a great opportunity to observe what works and what does not work in argument. In one of the debates, on the proposition that convicted drunk drivers should be required to display special license plates, the opposing team argued that breathalyzer-interlock devices are more effective than drunk driver license plates. In response the proposition team made the mistake of trying to shoot down the interlock idea: interlock devices are too expensive, they do not alert the police and other drivers to possibly dangerous drivers, etc. They fell into the trap of thinking that because they had to prove that their idea is good, it follows that they had to prove […]

Watching the ongoing negotiations over a budget deal needed to avert a government shut-down, which are approaching the eleventh hour tonight, once again we see a pattern that is common in labor negotiations and many other kinds of negotiations in which parties are forced to stay up all night, and the outcome remains in doubt up until the deadline or even beyond the deadline. It’s not just procrastination that creates this dynamic.  In the budget negotiations, there are some serious substantive issues at stake, and the ultimate shape of the deal does make a real difference in people’s lives. But in terms of large issues such as the size of this year’s deficit, the difference between the two sides is […]

I did a piece this week on my political blog, discussing, as many others have, Newt Gingrich’s recent inconsistent statements on our policy toward Libya.  One week he was for all for establishing a no fly zone and getting rid of Qaddafi, the next week he said the US should not have intervened. Some accused Gingrich of flip-flopping. I do not. What I accuse him of is reflexively setting himself against everything President Obama is for, and for everything the President is against. Since we hung back several weeks before intervening militarily in Libya, Gingrich attacked the administration for that. Once we intervened, Gingrich attacked the administration for that. I’m sure some of Newt Gingrich’s supporters prefer this stance of […]

Here is a portion of a 60 Minutes interview with incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner, who explains why he thinks “compromise” is a dirty word: J. BOEHNER: We have to govern. That’s what we were elected to do. STAHL (on camera): But governing means compromising. J. BOEHNER: It means working together. It means find… STAHL: It also means compromising. J. BOEHNER: It means finding common ground. STAHL: OK, is that compromising? J. BOEHNER: I made clear I am not going to compromise on — on my principles, nor am I going to compromise… STAHL: What are you saying? J. BOEHNER: … the will of the American people. STAHL: And you’re saying I want common ground, but I’m not […]