Conflict Resolution

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This week Congress appears poised to succeed in passing a budget, a feat many were not sure was possible in these partisan times. Budget negotiations were a subject I took a strange interest in during the Obama years, when all the talk was of whether the president was able to make his promise of post-partisanship work. President Obama was alternately criticized in budget negotiations for being too conciliatory toward the opposition, or too unwilling to work with Congressional Republicans, while Republicans were alternately criticized for being too obstructionist, or too unwilling to stand up for their principles. Whatever the merits of these conflicting criticisms, many political prices were paid during those years, but the government somehow managed to muddle through […]

While lots of attention is being paid to this year’s Oscars fiasco in which the presenters were handed the wrong envelope for the final award, I want to call attention to a little-noticed speech by Mark Rylance, who presented the (correct) award for best supporting actress to Viola Davis. Before announcing the winner, Rylance noted that oftentimes supporting actors would be better described as opposing actors. Their role is to disagree with and challenge other actors, creating the conflicts that make for a good story. He went on to explain how valuable such opposition is, not only in telling stories, but also in sports, and in society in general. All of the nominated actresses–Naomie Harris in Moonlight, Viola Davis in […]

There is a measure on the March ballot in Los Angeles, Measure S, that would among other things force a two year moratorium on most new big real estate development projects in the city. I’m not going to discuss here the merits of this proposal, even though I have definite opinions on the topic. I’m only going to address how our political and legal processes frame decisions. In this case, instead of allowing a healthy public debate over the scale, density and location of new apartment construction, in which we could consider a range of ideas, and perhaps reach solutions that serve a number of competing interests, this ballot initiative now forces use to choose only whether we are for […]

Problems that arise in running a family business sometimes manifest themselves as legal claims. That seems obvious when the company gets sued by an employee or vendor or customer, but can also occur when the other owners choose to invoke the courts when they suspect another family member of financial improprieties or mismanagement. Anger at the alleged offender can then fuel the fires of litigation, turning the conflict into a costly experience that can not only destroy the business, but can also destroy the family. And litigation may never resolve the underlying causes of the conflict, which could stem from sibling rivalry, parental favoritism, or some form of abuse. Those underlying causes of conflict can’t always be resolved, but they […]

Senator George Mitchell, the architect of the Northern Ireland peace agreements, spoke at the SCMA Conference the Saturday just before the election. Not knowing or making any assumptions about who would win, Senator Mitchell addressed what we, and the next president, need to do next to help bring us together and solve some urgent problems. He stressed the importance of listening to opposing views, and working together to find consensus on policy issues. Our political system is supposed to encourage that kind of cooperation because our system of separation of powers, unlike a parliamentary system, rarely puts one party in total control of the government. So what tends to result when the two parties fail to cooperate is political gridlock. […]

Dorit Cypis put together an interesting workshop at the SCMA conference this past weekend, in which participants explored the power of forming small groups to engage in dialogue. This format has been used successfully in a number of contexts to allow different points of view in a community to be expressed and understood. (See my post below on the Days of Dialogue programs on the future of policing.) It works because the participants in these groups learn to see one another as human beings They feel safe in telling their stories and expressing their feelings because they are taught to listen respectfully when other members of the group do the same. The topic in our small groups at this conference was […]