Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

Read The Latest Post

Here is how one high stakes negotiation is currently playing out: First a recap. On February 13, 2016, Justice Scalia’s unexpected death created a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Within less than a day, leading Senate Republicans made a pre-emptive opening demand, announcing that they would refuse to consider, even to hold hearings for, any nominee the president proposed.  Next, President Obama announced that he would proceed in the normal course anyway, and he also invited the opposition to the White House, where they meet in the Oval Office on March 1, 2016. Presumably the parties gauged each other’s resolve, presented their respective best alternatives to a negotiated outcome of the dispute, perhaps suggested some ways of reaching a resolution. […]

Speaking of peace in the Middle East, I’ve been reading the new book about the Camp David negotiations by Lawrence Wright. Surprisingly, reading this account made me feel a little more hopeful about the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the great unfinished business of the Camp David accords, even though the conventional wisdom in light of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent re-election is that resolution of the issues in the territories is now a long ways off. The reasons for hope lie in recollecting that if anything, Menachem Begin was an even more belligerent character than Netanyahu is today. Begin was reluctant to concede on any issues, whether the status of Jerusalem, or Jewish settlements in Sinai, or withdrawal from […]

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. […]

It is commonplace advice in settlement negotiations, including mediations, to warn the participants not to be insulted by the other side’s opening demand or offer. Those who play the negotiation game often enough know that these opening numbers merely set the parameters for further negotiation, and are often deliberately unreasonable. Whether consciously or unconsciously, parties making unrealistic opening demands or offers are taking advantage of the concept of “anchoring.” That theory, which has been validated by some research, holds that people are highly affected by the number, or price, that is attached to something. So theoretically, if one were to conduct two settlement negotiations of the exact same case (let’s say this case has an objective value of $50,000), and […]

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 […]