Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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One of the more interesting assignments I had this year required me to mediate a dispute between two mediators. In preparing for this mediation, I wondered whether my usual conflict resolution techniques would work. These two experts were already wise to all of the usual mediators’ tricks. What could I possibly suggest that they had not thought of already? During the course of a couple of conference calls it took to resolve the problem, these two mediators showed that they were way ahead of me with respect to understanding the stages of the mediation process and the techniques we were using to reach a resolution. At one point for example, one of the participants asked me if it was premature […]

This week, by passing a new budget agreement through the House (still waiting on the Senate), Congress finally seems to be learning how to get back to business. To do that requires managing truly unresolveable conflicts, instead of allowing those conflicts to gum up the works completely. Positions on both sides have hardened to the point where Republicans will not accept even a penny of tax increases, and Democrats will not accept cuts to entitlement programs. That means the usual split-the-difference approaches no longer work. Meanwhile discretionary spending has already been cut more than both sides feel comfortable with. Support for restoring defense cuts in particular cuts across party lines. So how do you craft a budget agreement in this […]

During the 1980’s, when South Africa was in the news all the time, when the divestment movement was in full swing on college campuses and countries around the world were imposing sanctions, when South Africa was being ripped apart by repression and terrible violence, I remember thinking that South Africa served in some ways as a microcosm of the whole world. In that country a small minority of European ancestry was imposing its will on the majority African population, consuming most of the wealth for itself, and adhering to the fiction that the majority population could be confined to a few artificial “homelands.” It was an unsustainable system, but the leaders of South Africa seemed unwilling to yield. I remember […]

I’ve finally been catching up on the first season of the TV series House of Cards. The hero, House Majority Whip Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, is a ruthless and cynical politician interested in obtaining power and using it. He repeatedly gets the better of his adversaries by his willingness to resort to lies and tricks, implying that such unscrupulousness is necessary to get ahead in politics, and that those who are unwilling to resort to underhanded tactics are going to be left behind. It’s a popular view of negotiation in general, that successful negotiators need to use trickery and deception to get the better of their adversaries on the other side of the table. The trouble is that […]