Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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In my sometimes over-simplified way of looking at negotiated agreements, I have argued that the most useful way to evaluate a potential deal is to compare it to alternatives that are actually available. Do not compare it to the deal that you think your side is entitled to, but instead compare it to whatever is likely to happen if you don’t make a deal. When nations are considering entering into peace treaties or trade agreements, for example, it’s generally not helpful to evaluate their benefits by comparing them to the best agreement your side might want. Instead look at whether the deal on the table is a better alternative than not making any deal at all. The same with settlements of […]

I had a chance at the SXSW Interactive Conference this week, to attend an introductory session on how the principles of the martial art of Aikido can be applied to resolving workplace and other conflicts. The presenters used the symbols of sword, shield and withdrawal to illustrate three basic ways of initiating or responding to conflict. For example, someone pushing toward your center can be met with a counter-thrust, or a block, or by running away. When we practiced learning how to recognize these attacks and responses, it almost felt like a game of rock-paper-scissors. Our choices might be dictated by our own instinctive approaches to conflict, or by our perceptions of what would work best against our opponent. Aikido […]

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 […]

The other day, I was trying to explain to another attorney why I’ve grown to dislike the term “litigation,” even though it’s the most commonly-accepted way of describing most of my law practice. I don’t have any objections to filing or defending lawsuits, and I’m also proud to call myself a trial lawyer for those unusual cases that finally make it to trial. But to me, “litigation” connotes a lot of activity in between that is not only wasteful, but actually counter-productive to the goal of resolving the dispute (I’m thinking of discovery disputes in particular, but the impulse to contest everything the other side is saying can arise in almost any procedural situation). This litigious mindset is counter-productive not […]