Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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When we meet Orestes at the beginning of the second play in Aeschylus’s trilogy, Choephori (The Libation Bearers)(for the first post in this series, click here), he is at his father’s grave, gathering his courage “to do what must be done.”   Once he gets to the palace, in disguise, Orestes doesn’t hesitate to kill Aegisthus, who has usurped his father’s throne, and taken up with his mother.  But killing his own mother is a bit more difficult for him.  After finding that Aegisthus has been murdered, Clytemnestra confronts her son, laying the full guilt treatment on him.  First she reminds him that she gave him life. Orestes, my child!  Don’t point at me with your sword. See these breasts that fed […]

A mediator at a study group I sometimes attend raised a good point about the limits of most mediators’ expertise.  He wondered whether it is even a good idea to delve into all of the psychological issues that may be motivating the parties to a dispute, since attorney-mediators are not psychologists or psychiatrists and are not qualified to diagnose or solve such problems.  Sometimes it may even be counter-productive to open the wounds underlying a complicated family or business problem, and it may not be necessary or even possible to resolve those problems to settle the lawsuit.  Personally, however, I usually want to try to find out about the forces that are driving the dispute, at least to some extent, […]

One of the things that mediators sometimes do is to try to get parties to think about lawsuits as a series of probabilistic outcomes, i.e., what are the chances the case will get dismissed before trial, that the plaintiff will prevail before a jury, that there will be an appeal, that the defendant will file bankruptcy, etc.  Parties often need to make a conceptual leap before they can even begin thinking about their dispute in those terms, however.  A lawsuit does not start out as a game of chance.  It starts out as a story in which one or both  parties injured or betrayed the other, and both parties seek vindication and compensation for their respective grievances.  Clients approach a […]

I happened to hear a program on NPR this morning talking about a psychology experiment in which subjects were asked to memorize a number, then walk down the hall to another room and repeat the number. The trick was that half the group was given a two digit number and the other half a seven digit number. The second trick played on these unsuspecting subjects was that on the way to the second room, they were stopped by someone offering them a snack, who asked them to choose between a slice of chocolate cake and a bowl of fruit. It turns out that the people who were asked to remember the seven digit number are about twice as likely to […]

The new movie The Men Who Stare at Goats is a comic take-off on the true story of an Army program to incorporate New Age concepts into the military. In the movie, Jeff Bridges plays an Army Colonel who trains an experimental unit of “Jedi warriors” who bring psychic powers and peacemaking concepts into modern war-fighting. George Clooney plays the most talented soldier trained by this unit, who actually does seem to have psychic powers. Of course, most of the ideas propagated by this so-called New Earth Army, which was based on a real program called the First Earth Battallion, were crazy, did not work, and were scoffed at by the regular Army. Just as you are ready to laugh […]