Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Last night’s season final episode of Entourage contained some good examples of the intangible factors that sometimes create, and then break, logjams in negotiations. First Ari Gold had to persuade his wife, in front of their counselor, to allow him to put up her assets as collateral for a loan needed to purchase Gold’s former agency. She was distrustful because she suspected that he was pursuing this opportunity mainly to exact revenge against some of his former colleagues. In order to gain her trust, Gold had to admit, in graphic terms, that in fact he did have the basest and most personal of motives for buying out his former boss, and that he was looking forward to firing a number […]

Settlement offers as well as demands frequently carry a time limit: For example, “If not accepted, this offer will expire at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday,” or “If we cannot resolve this matter to our client’s satisfaction within 10 business days, we will take all appropriate steps, including filing suit against your client.” Why do people, including myself, include these deadlines? Everyone knows we may be bluffing, because we would generally still prefer to settle on the same offered terms the day after, or even the month after, the offer expires. If the settlement demand or offer were not a more attractive alternative than a failure to reach agreement, we would not have made the demand or offer in the first […]

President Obama yesterday succeeded in getting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas to meet in the same room in New York. The President said “Simply put, it is past time to stop talking about starting negotiations, and time to move forward.” (quoted in the Los Angeles Times) According to a Netanyahu aide quoted in the New York Times, the meeting was to take place “without preconditions, as the Prime Minister has always wanted.” This is obviously a reference to the Palestinian insistence on a settlement freeze prior to any serious negotiations. But the Israelis have also set preconditions to various meetings in the past, and Israel and the United States still will not negotiate with Hamas unless Hamas […]

It seems appropriate to follow up on my earlier post about the factors that create impasse (as applied to California budget negotiations), with a post on what finally broke the impasse. In other words, why did the Democrats cave in to the Republican demand that taxes not be increased? Some political analysts attribute that result to the Democrats simply being more “wimpy” than the Republicans. Because Democrats seem perpetually less organized and more prone to infighting, because they seem to have more difficulty getting a coherent message across, or because they just lack backbone, the thinking goes, they are always getting rolled. I’m sure there is something to this kind of personality analysis of the parties, but I’m not sure […]

Often parties to a negotiation will make a certain amount of progress, then get stalled. Each side may have made what they feel are reasonable compromises in their positions, but have arrived at a point that is still distant from the other side’s position. Mediators use various techniques to bridge this gap, which may be as simple as calling a break, or may require getting the parties to consider a mediator’s proposal. I see it as a process of getting both sides to cross a line they did not want to cross before the mediation, and often the way to make them do that is to make them understand that the other side is making a similar leap of faith. […]