Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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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 […]

In announcing his nomination yesterday of Elena Kagan for Justice Stevens’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Obama praised not only her achievements and intellect, but also her open-mindedness, and her “skill as a  consensus-builder.”  As dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan was known for bringing peace to a famously fractious faculty, and for opening the doors to a variety of political viewpoints.  As solicitor general, she has spent the past year studying the Supreme Court, looking for ways to entice a majority to support the government’s position.  This appears to be the training and temperament the President is looking for at this moment on the Supreme Court. Some on the left are disappointed at this selection, believing that […]

In a post on my political blog, I discussed the president’s plan to hold a bipartisan session on health insurance reform, which at face value seems to represent an offer to mediate or negotiate a consensus bill, or at least to invite the Republicans back into the process. The Republican leadership has responded by demanding that the Democrats admit that their whole effort to reform the health care system was a mistake and that they agree to start over. The Democrats don’t seem inclined to do that, but they don’t seem to expect they will persuade many Republicans to support the bills passed by the House or Senate either.  Rather, their offer to hold a public negotiating session may aim […]

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. […]