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 […]

Senator George Mitchell, the architect of the Northern Ireland peace agreements, spoke at the SCMA Conference the Saturday just before the election. Not knowing or making any assumptions about who would win, Senator Mitchell addressed what we, and the next president, need to do next to help bring us together and solve some urgent problems. He stressed the importance of listening to opposing views, and working together to find consensus on policy issues. Our political system is supposed to encourage that kind of cooperation because our system of separation of powers, unlike a parliamentary system, rarely puts one party in total control of the government. So what tends to result when the two parties fail to cooperate is political gridlock. […]

I really appreciated receiving this memento of a memorable year as president of the Southern California Mediation Association, at our conference in Malibu. I didn’t achieve everything I wanted to achieve. Some projects are still ongoing. But I really enjoyed my year leading an organization that performs much valuable work helping its members learn more about the field and fulfill their professional goals, and spreading the word to the public about the benefits of mediation. One of the goals that I and others have sought to instill in the organization has been to maintain a positive, cohesive, open and welcoming atmosphere within the group. I frequently found myself using whatever mediation skills I have in dealing with internal conflicts (every […]

Ryan Lizza’s article, “The Obama Memos,” in this week’s New Yorker, contains some inside information explaining how candidate Obama’s promises to usher in a new style of politics, ran into the realities of a Congress that is more partisan than ever before. Commentators like Paul Krugman have jumped on the bandwagon, chiding President Obama for being so naive in thinking he could “transcend partisanship.” Now conventional wisdom seems to suggest that President Obama has abandoned any efforts at bi-partisanship, and is going to come out swinging at Congress and the Republican opposition during this election year. The headline in the LA Times, for example, called this week’s State of the Union speech a “confrontational” address. All of this feeds into […]

Here is a portion of a 60 Minutes interview with incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner, who explains why he thinks “compromise” is a dirty word: J. BOEHNER: We have to govern. That’s what we were elected to do. STAHL (on camera): But governing means compromising. J. BOEHNER: It means working together. It means find… STAHL: It also means compromising. J. BOEHNER: It means finding common ground. STAHL: OK, is that compromising? J. BOEHNER: I made clear I am not going to compromise on — on my principles, nor am I going to compromise… STAHL: What are you saying? J. BOEHNER: … the will of the American people. STAHL: And you’re saying I want common ground, but I’m not […]