Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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I attended a well-organized series of panels sponsored by the Southern California Mediation Association designed to further an ongoing debate over whether certification of mediators should be encouraged. There seemed to be a consensus that the time has come to stop just talking about this issue and start doing something about it, but there are still a lot of questions about how to address certification. There is a strong and understandable desire to build some respectability into the field, and to make sure the people who call themselves mediators are qualified to practice. There also seem to be a lot of people who think that the marketplace and the courts and provider organizations seem to be doing an adequate job […]

Often parties to a negotiation will make a certain amount of progress, then get stalled. Each side may have made what they feel are reasonable compromises in their positions, but have arrived at a point that is still distant from the other side’s position. Mediators use various techniques to bridge this gap, which may be as simple as calling a break, or may require getting the parties to consider a mediator’s proposal. I see it as a process of getting both sides to cross a line they did not want to cross before the mediation, and often the way to make them do that is to make them understand that the other side is making a similar leap of faith. […]

Furniture has important symbolic as well as utilitarian functions. In a courtroom, for example, the elevated position of the judge, and the adversarial positions of the parties, both facing and subservient to the judge, are perfectly symbolized and reinforced by the arrangement of the furniture. In a conference room, the person who sits at the head of the table sometimes assumes a similar position of authority. Parties attending a mediation usually expect the mediator to sit at the head of the table, and arrange themselves on each side, facing but often not talking to each other, and often directing their attention to the mediator at the head. To shake up these expectations, I sometimes like to sit to one side […]

Paul Krugman says that President Obama messed up on health care big time at his press conference on Tuesday. Supposedly the President did that by undercutting his eloquent pitch for a so-called “public option” by refusing to state that a public option was a non-negotiable feature of his health care reform proposal. The exact quote is as follows: “We have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured.” According to Paul Krugman, President Obama is making a mistake by negotiating with himself, and thereby giving away more than he needs to. Krugman displays a common view of […]