Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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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 […]

Here are the president’s comments on the deal worked out yesterday on taxes:  The media seems preoccupied with trying to figure out which party gains politically and which party loses; who wins and who caves.   Partisans on both the right and left seem anguished by how much each side had to “give up” to make a settlement.  Watching the president explain the rationale for making a deal, I am struck by how hard he has to work to persuade these partisans of the necessity and justifications for the deal.  It is remarkable how similar the president’s rationales sound to the explanations lawyers and mediators have to provide for parties to a litigation, to justify the benefits of a settlement over […]

I posted something earlier this week on the power of negative thinking, on my political blog, inspired by a New York Times article describing how customers’ negative comments on the internet actually helped a business find new customers by boosting its search engine ranking.  That led me to think about how our instinct to attack, rather than to engage in dialogue with people who we believe have wronged us, can often be counter-productive.   In the case of the business described in the article, its dissatisfied customers would no doubt be frustrated to learn that the more they complained, the more they were helping the business succeed.  Indeed, the owner actually found these complaints so helpful that he was inspired to […]