Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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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. […]

Paul Krugman says that President Obama messed up on health care big time at his press conference on Tuesday. Supposedly the President did that by undercutting his eloquent pitch for a so-called “public option” by refusing to state that a public option was a non-negotiable feature of his health care reform proposal. The exact quote is as follows: “We have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured.” According to Paul Krugman, President Obama is making a mistake by negotiating with himself, and thereby giving away more than he needs to. Krugman displays a common view of […]

Suppose one of the parties to a negotiation makes what could be seen as a major concession, but attaches a bunch of conditions to it that everyone knows are unacceptable to the other side. This is what Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech did by for the first time accepting the possibility of a Palestinian state, but conditioning acceptance of such a state on limiting its sovereignty. We have the choice of looking at such an offer as a sham, or as offering a real possibility of a future agreement. Of course the opposition’s initial reaction has been negative, but any mediator’s job ought to be to accentuate the positive. Suddenly we have a concept that both sides now agree upon. Yes, […]

Mediators will sometimes tell the parties that the measure of whether a proposed settlement is fair is that it should make both sides equally unhappy. In other words, a party accepting less (or paying more) than they think they should is supposed to be consoled by the fact that the other side feels exactly the same way. I think this is a very negative way of looking at settlement. I tell the parties in a mediation exactly the opposite. I tell them that if they think they will be better off rejecting the settlement and taking their case to trial, by all means they should do that. No one should accept a settlement that makes them worse off than the […]