Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Over the weekend, negotiators in Geneva achieved what many are calling an historic agreement with the Iranian government. What was achieved is an interim agreement, effective for the next six months, that essentially freezes Iranian nuclear development and allows for the lifting of some international sanctions against Iran. During that time, the parties will attempt to negotiate a more comprehensive agreement that satisfies the world community’s demand that Iran be precluded from developing nuclear weapons while moving toward normalized economic and political relations with Iran. Before the ink is even dry on this agreement, we are hearing a wide variety of reactions, most of which are predictable. Some are already heralding the agreement as President Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievement, […]

Next time somebody tells you they don’t want to give an inch to the other side in a negotiation or litigation, it might help to suggest to them that they might want to be more practical than our Congress. You probably don’t risk having an argument if your friend or client happens to be from the opposite political party as you. The one thing that most Americans seem able to agree on, no matter what their political persuasion, is that they hate Congress. In the latest example of Congress’s ineptitude, we saw this week the spectacle of Senate Democrats deciding to change the rules of that body by a simple majority vote in the middle of a session, something that […]

The quote of the week might be from Republican Congressman Marlin Stutzman of Indiana who summed up his side’s dilemma last Tuesday as follows: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” How many mediators have heard parties make similar statements? I’m guessing most have. The inability of Democrats and Republicans in Congress to reach an agreement that will allow the government to continue to operate and pay its bills, something both sides presumably want, serves as a good illustration of how conflict itself can paralyze the parties trapped in it, and can prevent parties even from accomplishing things they might be able to agree on. We could […]

Mediators tend to believe practically every conflict can be resolved through negotiation, and that settlement is almost always better than the alternatives of continued conflict or an adversarial form of conflict resolution like trial. Mediators like to quote Abraham Lincoln’s admonition to discourage litigation and persuade neighbors to compromise, because lawyers do the most good as peacemakers. But Lincoln went on as president to wage war as fiercely as the country had ever seen. Did he forget his own advice to try to reach a negotiated resolution of conflict? Or was he compelled by circumstances to fight, offering the other side only the option of surrender? My prior post about hostage-taking brings to mind situations where it is impossible, or […]

Last night I had a chance to see an early screening of the new movie, Captain Phillips, based on the true and well-known story of the ship captain freed by Navy Seals after being taken hostage by Somali pirates. While the manner in which the captain was freed has to be somewhat disappointing to mediators, the movie still provides a good illustration of the problem faced by hostage-takers who fail to get their prisoner to a safe location. If they give up the hostage, they risk being killed. If they kill the hostage, they will almost certainly be killed or captured. And if they try to bargain for the hostage’s release, they still face the difficulty of making a clean […]

Wayne LaPierre owes an apology, or at least an explanation, to Antoinette Tuff, the Georgia school employee who successfully talked down a gunman who entered her elementary school with an assault rifle and some 500 rounds of ammunition. Remember it was NRA spokesman LaPierre who responded to the Newtown shooting by advising us that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to rely on a good guy with a gun. That’s right, he said that more guns is the ONLY way to stop violence. Antoinette Tuff instead showed that engaging in an hour-long empathetic dialogue with a dangerous gunman might be an equally effective way to stop a bad guy with a gun. In fact, […]