Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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A cartoon in the New Yorker a couple of months ago showed a family lost in the jungle. The father, scratching his chin, is saying, “OK, I admit it, we’re lost. But the important thing is to remain focused on whose fault it is.” I’m thinking of getting a framed copy to hang in my caucus room. Frequently the task in a mediation is to get the parties away from focusing on recriminations and blame for how they got themselves into their situation, and toward focusing on possible solutions to their conflict. It might be helpful for people to look at this picture, which enables us to see how obviously ridiculous it is for a family lost in the jungle […]

Many conflicts can be resolved without examining the underlying causes of the conflict too deeply, just as the common cold can be treated by dealing with the symptoms rather than the disease. For an ordinary lawsuit, removing the costs and uncertainty of continued litigation may present reason enough to settle the case, without any need to discuss the pathologies of the parties’ relationship or the flaws in the way one party or the other conducts their business, that caused the conflict. Focusing on problems rather than solutions may even impede resolution of a conflict in many cases, as these discussions tend to inflame parties’ passions. (See my prior post on solution-focused mediation.) But for the most intractable and difficult conflicts, […]

Some of mediation’s touted benefits include the potential for repairing a broken relationship, or the chance to re-open communications between estranged business partners or a divorcing couple, people who must continue to deal with each other. Mediation can also devise creative solutions that open up if the parties are able to resume or start a new relationship, for example, settling a dispute over poor service or defective products by supplying new products or services. In many lawsuits, however, the parties have no interest in doing any further business with each other. In the garden variety personal injury case between strangers, there is no reason for the parties to desire any future contact, and even in a case that arises out […]

The resolution of conflict generally starts by looking backward. The parties bring their conflict to a neutral authority, whether a judge, arbitrator or mediator, providing the information necessary to allow someone to sort out who was right and who was wrong, who should pay and how much. Some practitioners in the mediation field are suggesting that mediation should be a more forward-looking process, and need not be as focused as it frequently is on the details of the conflict. When mediation instead asks the parties to think about how their lives might be better without the conflict, or about what aspects of their relationship are positive, then it can truly present an alternative way of resolving a dispute. I heard […]