Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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When you look at the literature on negotiating, you tend to find (at least) two schools of thought. One, exemplified by Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes and its progeny, is a “win-win” approach that emphasizes communication and exploration of parties’ underlying interests. The other is more of a “win-lose” philosophy that emphasizes getting the upper hand in negotiations and gaining profits for one side at the expense of the other. Some have labeled these as “soft” or “hard” approaches to negotiation. Before trying to evaluate which approach to negotiation has more validity, I should note that there is some overlap between the two camps. An interest-based bargainer might say that being mindful of the other side’s interests does not […]

How do we know whether those with whom we are dealing have hostile intentions? How do we establish communication with them? How do we develop trust? The new science fiction movie Arrival addresses these common problems in conflict resolution. Confronted by forces that appear new and dangerous, our human instincts urge us to fight or flight. Those instincts may also lead us to interpret ambiguous gestures in a threatening way. We face these challenges even when we are dealing with people we know who are speaking our language. Imagine being confronted by an alien race that communicates with symbols we have no key to interpret. The movie nicely illustrates the linguistic complexities involved in asking a simple question like, “What is […]

In the highly-charged atmosphere of our current political season, is more fighting really what we need? Senator Elizabeth Warren evidently thinks so. Here is a portion of Senator Warren’s comments on the Rachel Maddow show last night, when Warren explained why she is endorsing Hillary Clinton for President:  Hillary Clinton won . . . because she’s a fighter . . . . And I think this is what we need. . .  As a Democrat, one of the things that frustrates me the most is there are a lot of times we just don’t get in the fight. We ask pretty please if we can have things or we make the argument for why it is the best thing to do, […]

Here is how one high stakes negotiation is currently playing out: First a recap. On February 13, 2016, Justice Scalia’s unexpected death created a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Within less than a day, leading Senate Republicans made a pre-emptive opening demand, announcing that they would refuse to consider, even to hold hearings for, any nominee the president proposed.  Next, President Obama announced that he would proceed in the normal course anyway, and he also invited the opposition to the White House, where they meet in the Oval Office on March 1, 2016. Presumably the parties gauged each other’s resolve, presented their respective best alternatives to a negotiated outcome of the dispute, perhaps suggested some ways of reaching a resolution. […]

A variation of the Prisoners’ Dilemma problem may be playing out in the Republican primary campaign. Those elements in the party who are still seeking to prevent Trump from becoming the nominee have apparently abandoned their original tactic of attempting to coalesce support around the strongest non-Trump candidate while encouraging weaker candidates to drop out. Instead, the plan of the Never Trump movement is now to encourage all three remaining candidates to remain in the race, but act more cooperatively toward each other so that each can amass the maximum number of delegates in the states in which each is running most strongly, and thereby prevent Trump from gaining a majority in advance of the convention. Thus, Rubio and Cruz […]

Are there negotiating lessons one can learn from the world of Quentin Tarantino? Mediators tend to believe that if we encourage parties in conflict to continue talking even when resolution seems unlikely, they will eventually reach a level of common understanding that will enable both sides to find an acceptable way out of conflict. Films like The Hateful Eight and most other Tarantino films, severely test that assumption. The characters jabber endlessly. They examine each problem in excruciating detail. They lay out all of the various scenarios for escape from their predicament (their best alternatives to a violent outcome). At one point in The Hateful Eight, a character is jumping to conclusions about which of the three guys lined up against […]