Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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A variation of the Prisoners’ Dilemma problem may be playing out in the Republican primary campaign. Those elements in the party who are still seeking to prevent Trump from becoming the nominee have apparently abandoned their original tactic of attempting to coalesce support around the strongest non-Trump candidate while encouraging weaker candidates to drop out. Instead, the plan of the Never Trump movement is now to encourage all three remaining candidates to remain in the race, but act more cooperatively toward each other so that each can amass the maximum number of delegates in the states in which each is running most strongly, and thereby prevent Trump from gaining a majority in advance of the convention. Thus, Rubio and Cruz […]

Last week we heard the news of the strangely untimely death of mathematician John Nash, whose life story was made famous in the book and film “A Beautiful Mind.” The Nash equilibrium is a concept sometimes touched upon in teaching negotiation theory, and it’s not difficult to understand why we should try to understand it, even if we might have trouble doing the math. What Nash and others taught us that is especially relevant to conflict resolution is that parties involved in conflict will often rationally both choose a sub-optimal outcome for themselves. Therefore they will benefit from learning how to be more cooperative with their adversary. That means Nash’s mathematical theory helps prove the usefulness of mediators or some […]

In the first episode of the second season of Orange is the New Black, the series presents a variation on the prisoner’s dilemma problem that is often discussed in mediation programs and texts. Piper and her former girlfriend Alex both have to testify against the drug kingpin they used to work for. Alex persuades Piper to lie and say she had no contact with the guy, otherwise he might take reprisals against them both. After giving her testimony, Piper finds out that Alex in fact told the truth at the trial, leaving Piper exposed to a possible perjury prosecution and an increase in her sentence. In the prisoner’s dilemma scenario, an opportunity to communicate as well as familiarity with the […]

On March 1, 2013, if Congress does not come its senses, the dreaded sequester is going to take effect. For those who do not follow closely all of the machinations of Congressional budget negotiations, here is a brief recap of how we got here: On August 2, 2011, as a compromise measure to prevent the government from defaulting on its debt obligations, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011. That statute required Congress to agree to certain levels of deficit reduction measures over the next ten years. If they could not agree, a package of automatic spending cuts, half to defense and half to domestic spending, would take effect on January 1, 2013. The important thing to understand about […]

This video has been making the rounds for awhile, so I’m sure a lot of readers have already seen it. It’s from a British game show that ends with a variant of the prisoner’s dilemma problem that a lot of us study in mediation programs. Nick has evidently figured out that he can never be sure he will be able to persuade Ibriham that he will be fair. And even if he could, that might only encourage Ibriham to take advantage. So Nick adopts the novel strategy of trying to persuade Ibriham that Nick will make the selfish move, in order to force Ibriham to make the only play that can possibly benefit both of them. Then Nick can be […]