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 […]

Here is how one high stakes negotiation is currently playing out: First a recap. On February 13, 2016, Justice Scalia’s unexpected death created a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Within less than a day, leading Senate Republicans made a pre-emptive opening demand, announcing that they would refuse to consider, even to hold hearings for, any nominee the president proposed.  Next, President Obama announced that he would proceed in the normal course anyway, and he also invited the opposition to the White House, where they meet in the Oval Office on March 1, 2016. Presumably the parties gauged each other’s resolve, presented their respective best alternatives to a negotiated outcome of the dispute, perhaps suggested some ways of reaching a resolution. […]

Are there negotiating lessons one can learn from the world of Quentin Tarantino? Mediators tend to believe that if we encourage parties in conflict to continue talking even when resolution seems unlikely, they will eventually reach a level of common understanding that will enable both sides to find an acceptable way out of conflict. Films like The Hateful Eight and most other Tarantino films, severely test that assumption. The characters jabber endlessly. They examine each problem in excruciating detail. They lay out all of the various scenarios for escape from their predicament (their best alternatives to a violent outcome). At one point in The Hateful Eight, a character is jumping to conclusions about which of the three guys lined up against […]

Over the weekend, negotiators in Geneva achieved what many are calling an historic agreement with the Iranian government. What was achieved is an interim agreement, effective for the next six months, that essentially freezes Iranian nuclear development and allows for the lifting of some international sanctions against Iran. During that time, the parties will attempt to negotiate a more comprehensive agreement that satisfies the world community’s demand that Iran be precluded from developing nuclear weapons while moving toward normalized economic and political relations with Iran. Before the ink is even dry on this agreement, we are hearing a wide variety of reactions, most of which are predictable. Some are already heralding the agreement as President Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievement, […]

Last night, the Republican House leadership withdrew the tax part of their so-called “Plan B,” which would have raised the top bracket percentage only for people making over $1 million annually. Plan B was withdrawn because they didn’t have the votes to pass it. In negotiation parlance, Plan B was akin to the Fisher/Ury concept of BATNA (the best alternative to a negotiated agreement). In mediation, however, I find it more useful to focus the parties on the MLATNA (most likely alternative to a negotiated agreement), because parties who fail to make a deal can’t count on getting their best alternative outcome. (In the budget negotiations we are now watching, the MLATNA would refer to the most likely scenarios that […]