Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Ryan Lizza’s article, “The Obama Memos,” in this week’s New Yorker, contains some inside information explaining how candidate Obama’s promises to usher in a new style of politics, ran into the realities of a Congress that is more partisan than ever before. Commentators like Paul Krugman have jumped on the bandwagon, chiding President Obama for being so naive in thinking he could “transcend partisanship.” Now conventional wisdom seems to suggest that President Obama has abandoned any efforts at bi-partisanship, and is going to come out swinging at Congress and the Republican opposition during this election year. The headline in the LA Times, for example, called this week’s State of the Union speech a “confrontational” address. All of this feeds into […]

In contrast with previous dealings with Congress, President Obama’s recent introduction of the American Jobs Act presented a bill already drafted by the administration, and demanded that Congress simply pass the president’s whole bill, right away. Some have viewed this new approach as a recognition of the limitations of the administration’s previous negotiating strategies, in which the President often let Congress take the lead, left the details of legislation up to Congress, and signaled his willingness to compromise in advance. I’m curious whether other mediators think that the administration has been deficient in negotiation skills previously, and whether this new approach is likely to be more effective. I think the new “get tough” attitude might in part represent an attempt […]

Mediators often become evangelists for negotiated resolution of conflict, believing mediation or other forms of diplomacy to be superior to all other forms of conflict resolution in all circumstances, and with the potential of solving all problems. We should probably be more humble. We should understand that some conflicts cannot be resolved at all, and some can only be resolved by other means. President Obama, who most of the time stands for making every effort to achieve consensus, and who even won the Nobel Peace Prize(!), reminded us of that with his announcement last night that he had ordered, and the military had carried out, the killing of Osama Bin Laden. In this case, we were dealing with a character […]

Here are the president’s comments on the deal worked out yesterday on taxes:  The media seems preoccupied with trying to figure out which party gains politically and which party loses; who wins and who caves.   Partisans on both the right and left seem anguished by how much each side had to “give up” to make a settlement.  Watching the president explain the rationale for making a deal, I am struck by how hard he has to work to persuade these partisans of the necessity and justifications for the deal.  It is remarkable how similar the president’s rationales sound to the explanations lawyers and mediators have to provide for parties to a litigation, to justify the benefits of a settlement over […]

Regardless of our individual political leanings, advocates of mediation should be concerned by the bruising midterm campaign season that has just ended, and by the prospect of gridlock and increased partisanship in the next session of Congress.  In mediator’s terms, we are facing the likelihood of impasse.  Conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans have been drummed out of both parties, leaving the more doctrinaire members dominant.  Newly energized Republicans have already announced that they have no appetite for compromise.  And Democrats have already started attributing the diminished enthusiasm of their base to the administration’s willingness to make concessions to the opposition.  It will take all of the president’s mediator-like skills to make progress in this situation.  Alternatively, he may abandon those […]