Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Last week Kofi Annan, as prestigious and qualified a mediator as one could ask for, resigned his assignment to try to broker a peace agreement in Syria. Annan cited the Syrian government’s intransigence, and the rebels’ desire to achieve their ends by force of arms. In addition, he mentioned that “finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council” was making it impossible for him to do his job. Annan was quoted as saying that “without serious, purposeful and united international pressure, including from the powers of the region, it is impossible for me, or anyone, to compel the Syrian government in the first place, and also the opposition, to take the steps necessary to begin a political process.” Mediators generally hate […]

At a mediation seminar I attended this week, Doug Noll, a mediator from Fresno, California, along with Don Philbin, a mediator from Texas, explained that hardly any of the information we process in communication with others is contained in their words. Nearly all of it lies in people’s gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, and other non-verbal cues. Lawyers have trouble accepting this fact, trained as we are in the importance of words. And we haven’t grasped its full implications. What was most interesting to me was a technique Noll tried to teach us that demonstrates to another person that they have been heard and understood. Instead of the frequently-taught method of summarizing the gist of what someone has just […]

Even in the course of the most hard-fought lawsuits, opportunities may arise for the parties to decide to stop fighting for a moment, and try to work out some problem or another together. Parties are encouraged to resolve discovery disputes cooperatively, for example, instead of fighting over every document request and deposition notice. Parties are also encouraged to resolve entire disputes through mediation rather than battling it out in court. To do that, we need to change the atmosphere from one of mutually assured destruction to one of cooperation. How do we do that? Think about changing the atmosphere in politics, a field of endless, irresolvable conflict and argument. In 2008, candidate Obama talked a lot about transforming political conflict, in a way that sounded familiar […]

A piece in the New York Times last week called How Liberals Win, reminds us of the deals that FDR and LBJ made with corporate power in order to enact their signature reforms.  What President Obama did to pass health care reform followed that tradition. But when the Obama administration made a deal with pharmaceutical companies to obtain their support for health insurance reform, many of his supporters viewed that agreement as a sell-out. In hindsight, however, it appears that that agreement may have been crucial to obtaining passage of the Affordable Care Act. Remember that Clinton failed at gaining health insurance reform, because his proposals fell victim to a fierce and unrelenting advertising campaign by the health insurance industry. Clinton lost that battle […]