Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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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 […]

The quote of the week might be from Republican Congressman Marlin Stutzman of Indiana who summed up his side’s dilemma last Tuesday as follows: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” How many mediators have heard parties make similar statements? I’m guessing most have. The inability of Democrats and Republicans in Congress to reach an agreement that will allow the government to continue to operate and pay its bills, something both sides presumably want, serves as a good illustration of how conflict itself can paralyze the parties trapped in it, and can prevent parties even from accomplishing things they might be able to agree on. We could […]

Using the tools of mediation, we delve into the root causes of problems, and we try to solve those problems in a non-adversarial way. Take the problem of excessive gun violence, for example, much on the public mind since the horrific Newtown massacre. Sadly, much of the debate on this topic is fairly superficial, and much of it reflects the typical confrontational way in which we resolve conflicts in our society. On one side we hear advocates talking about banning weapons; on the other people talking about how their rights are being infringed. We may be losing an opportunity to identify shared values and find common ground to reduce the underlying problem of gun violence. I heard a panel discussion […]

Piers Morgan’s interview earlier this week with radio host Alex Jones has gotten lots of attention, due to Jones’s seemingly-unprovoked fiery outbursts and threatening manner. Morgan probably accomplished what he wanted to accomplish by having Jones on the show. He exposed the raving right wing conspiracy theories behind at least some Americans’ attachment to guns, and probably scared a lot of people already sympathetic to gun control. At the same time, however, Morgan probably didn’t convince a lot of people who might be sympathetic to Jones’s views, and he didn’t even begin to engage in a constructive dialogue about responses to the problem of gun violence that we might get most people to agree on. Was that Morgan’s fault? He […]

As the nation embarks on a debate about how to reduce gun violence, it might be a good idea to set some ground rules. First rule: it’s useless to frame this issue in terms of constitutional rights. The meaning of the Second Amendment is a legal question that is determined by the Supreme Court. Arguing about the meaning of the Second Amendment is not going to get us anywhere, unless somebody’s argument is going to influence the Supreme Court. Anyway, liberals just look foolish and hypocritical advocating a strict textual, originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment. They don’t apply that standard when they claim that abortion and sodomy are constitutionally-protected activities. Why read another part of the Bill of Rights […]