Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Nobody should be surprised that the “fiscal cliff” negotiations are going down to the wire, and perhaps beyond it. Republicans and Democrats have been fighting tooth and nail over these budget issues for years now, and nobody is about to concede gracefully to the other side. Only when both sides are absolutely sure that the deal on the table is the only deal available, and that the deal is better than the alternative–an unpleasant package of tax hikes and budget cuts that will take effect automatically in January–is there a possibility that both sides will accept the deal. In this situation, the deadline itself might be the only thing that will force the parties to make a deal, which means […]

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 Plan B was withdrawn because they didn’t have the votes to pass it.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