Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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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 Plan B was withdrawn because they didn’t have the votes to pass it.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 […]

Getting closer to the deadline for avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the budget negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker Boehner have reached a delicate stage, with the president suggesting concessions some of his supporters are having difficulty swallowing, and the speaker threatening a “Plan B” that would circumvent the deal the two principal negotiators have been discussing. These negotiations are a little different from those that typically occur in mediation, where the negotiators (usually lawyers) are usually constrained by the clients in advance from offering anything the clients have not authorized. In this negotiation, the “clients” take the form of members of the House and Senate, an unruly bunch on both sides. The extent of the authority they have […]

Has the rise of ADR affected the way advocates prepare and handle cases, or can we expect attorneys to continue their customary practices of pleadings, motions, discovery and trial preparation, until the day comes when the cases settle in spite of, or as a result of, those efforts? A lot of time and effort is spent on pre-trial activities that are not of much benefit even if a case goes to trial, and are even more wasteful if the case is settled. Is there a way of conducting litigation that might avoid some of that wasteful activity and lead the parties on a more direct route toward a negotiated resolution? I’m not talking about what Professor Marc Galanter described years […]

I thought I might lay off politics for a while after the election. But politics is not taking a moment’s rest. And politics serves as such a good metaphor for mediation, I can’t resist discussing it. Take, for example, the politics of the upcoming budget wars, of which we are now hearing the opening salvos. This debate promises to provide a great example of the dynamics of a very public negotiation, one that will affect all of us. We can think of the election as a mechanism that affected the strength of each side’s bargaining position. We can also think of it as a message from the voters to their representatives, but that message is already subject to multiple interpretations. […]

I posted something on my political blog about two competing ballot propositions before California voters this November. Both aim to improve the state’s financial condition and raise money for education, but each attacks the problem in a somewhat different way. One is sponsored by the governor and the other by a private organization. Polling has indicated majority support for the governor’s proposition, but now there may be a real danger that both propositions go down to defeat. Why? Because the competition between the two measures has sparked negative messages by each side against the other. As soon as we have two ideas before us on how to fix a problem, we naturally start comparing them to decide which one we […]