Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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A friend of mine, Hoyt Hilsman, runs a program called the Intentional Conversation, sponsored by Marymount College. I finally had a chance to participate in my first one of these events this week. The design of the  program is deceptively simple. You enter a large space with a lot of other people, mingle a bit and get some coffee. Then you are assigned to a table, as if you are attending a wedding or a banquet. That becomes your table for the day, which enables everyone at the table to get to know one another fairly well. Everyone at all of the tables is given the same topic and some questions to stimulate discussion of the topic. So there are […]

This is eight year old Martin Richard, who has achieved immortality as an international symbol of peace. Martin was killed on Monday for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His mother also suffered a brain injury and his sister lost her leg, when a bomb exploded near to where the family was standing while they were watching the finish of the Boston Marathon.  

Yesterday at the ABA Dispute Resolution spring conference I heard former Senator George Mitchell talk about his five year effort to mediate a peace agreement in Northern Ireland. When the agreement was finally signed in 1998, Mitchell knew the work of making peace was not over, that implementation of the agreement was going to be even more difficult than the long effort to obtain the agreement, and that it would take some time before violence died down. He told people in Ireland at the time that although he knew they still had a lot of difficult days ahead, he hoped someday to return to Northern Ireland with his son, born only about six months before the Good Friday agreement, and […]

Empathy is an essential tool in mediation, both for the mediator and hopefully a quality the participants develop as well. Mediators recognize, unless we want to act purely as evaluators (and even then the capacity for empathy is still important), that we need to try to empathize with the needs and feelings of both sides in every case, to build trust and encourage understanding.  But sometimes the actions of parties to a dispute seem so foreign or even repugnant to our own values that we find it difficult to empathize. And when we can’t empathize, we tend to distance ourselves and condemn. Are there limits to the capacity to empathize? Are there actions so beyond the pale of acceptable human behavior that […]

Jared Diamond’s new book The World Until Yesterday considers what we in modern societies can learn from the few remaining traditional societies. Most of his examples come from New Guinea, where Diamond has spent a lot of time over many years. Diamond doesn’t fall into the trap of romanticizing traditional societies. He reminds us that as horrific as modern warfare can be among “civilized” nations, at least people in the developed world can, for the most part, travel unobstructed almost everywhere without fear of attack by enemies. That is not the case in many tribal cultures, where people live very circumscribed lives, often unable to travel outside their clan’s territory, otherwise they are likely to be killed by members of […]