Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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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 […]

Suppose one of the parties to a negotiation makes what could be seen as a major concession, but attaches a bunch of conditions to it that everyone knows are unacceptable to the other side. This is what Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech did by for the first time accepting the possibility of a Palestinian state, but conditioning acceptance of such a state on limiting its sovereignty. We have the choice of looking at such an offer as a sham, or as offering a real possibility of a future agreement. Of course the opposition’s initial reaction has been negative, but any mediator’s job ought to be to accentuate the positive. Suddenly we have a concept that both sides now agree upon. Yes, […]