Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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In the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie, there is a character named Mantis who has the power to sense the emotional state of anyone she touches. She can’t read their thoughts, but she can read their feelings. The other characters are amazed, and sometimes embarrassed, that Mantis can sense what they are secretly feeling. The character shows that it is often more important to understand emotions than rational thoughts. The power to read the emotional state of others is important in conflict resolution, maybe more important than understanding what people think the conflict is about. Emotions rule over logic most of the time, and identifying those emotions can help establish connections that enable parties to resolve conflict. What the […]

While lots of attention is being paid to this year’s Oscars fiasco in which the presenters were handed the wrong envelope for the final award, I want to call attention to a little-noticed speech by Mark Rylance, who presented the (correct) award for best supporting actress to Viola Davis. Before announcing the winner, Rylance noted that oftentimes supporting actors would be better described as opposing actors. Their role is to disagree with and challenge other actors, creating the conflicts that make for a good story. He went on to explain how valuable such opposition is, not only in telling stories, but also in sports, and in society in general. All of the nominated actresses–Naomie Harris in Moonlight, Viola Davis in […]

How do we know whether those with whom we are dealing have hostile intentions? How do we establish communication with them? How do we develop trust? The new science fiction movie Arrival addresses these common problems in conflict resolution. Confronted by forces that appear new and dangerous, our human instincts urge us to fight or flight. Those instincts may also lead us to interpret ambiguous gestures in a threatening way. We face these challenges even when we are dealing with people we know who are speaking our language. Imagine being confronted by an alien race that communicates with symbols we have no key to interpret. The movie nicely illustrates the linguistic complexities involved in asking a simple question like, “What is […]

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 […]

Confidentiality agreements often serve the short-term interests of the parties to a particular dispute: An enterprise accused of wrongdoing has a strong interest in keeping its alleged wrongful actions secret, both to protect its reputation and to dissuade others from suing. At the same time, individuals bringing such accusations have an incentive to agree to requests for secrecy, which are often demanded in exchange for settlement payments. In the new movie Spotlight, in which a motion to unseal court records plays a central part, the practice of entering into confidential settlement agreements providing a small amount of compensation to victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, is portrayed as a shameful means of allowing the Church to cover up crimes […]