Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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In the first episode of the second season of Orange is the New Black, the series presents a variation on the prisoner’s dilemma problem that is often discussed in mediation programs and texts. Piper and her former girlfriend Alex both have to testify against the drug kingpin they used to work for. Alex persuades Piper to lie and say she had no contact with the guy, otherwise he might take reprisals against them both. After giving her testimony, Piper finds out that Alex in fact told the truth at the trial, leaving Piper exposed to a possible perjury prosecution and an increase in her sentence. In the prisoner’s dilemma scenario, an opportunity to communicate as well as familiarity with the […]

One of the plot lines of the new season of House of Cards (I’ll confess I’ve spent a good deal of President’s Day weekend binge-watching it), depicts a trade negotiation between the US and the Chinese that abounds in confusion and double-crossing. On the American side, the negotiator is our anti-hero, the new vice-president Frank Underwood, who repeatedly misrepresents to the President what his Chinese counterpart told him. On the other side, Xander Feng is a shady businessman who might–we are never sure–be speaking for the Chinese government or only for a faction trying to change government policy. Or he might be put away after a corruption trial. While exaggerated, this depiction of international diplomacy has its roots in reality. […]

I’ve finally been catching up on the first season of the TV series House of Cards. The hero, House Majority Whip Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, is a ruthless and cynical politician interested in obtaining power and using it. He repeatedly gets the better of his adversaries by his willingness to resort to lies and tricks, implying that such unscrupulousness is necessary to get ahead in politics, and that those who are unwilling to resort to underhanded tactics are going to be left behind. It’s a popular view of negotiation in general, that successful negotiators need to use trickery and deception to get the better of their adversaries on the other side of the table. The trouble is that […]

Kenneth Feinberg was the keynote speaker at the SCMA fall conference yesterday, where we presented him with the Cloke‑Millen Peacemaker of the Year Award. Feinberg gave a fascinating talk on the dilemmas involved in allocating compensation to victims of such famous disasters as the BP Gulf Oil spill, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the recent shootings in Aurora, Colorado. In each case, Feinberg was largely successful in avoiding protracted litigation and compensating victims relatively quickly, using criteria that he and his team largely had to invent. Even so, few victims of these disasters chose to go to court after taking the route of an established compensation scheme, even when they retained that option. Feinberg […]

As expected, the new season of Fairly Legal has veered even further away from a realistic portrayal of mediation, to give more attention to the drama of the characters’ personal lives and business ambitions. As far as I can tell from the season opener, mediation is just Kate’s job, in the same way that many TV characters have a job that adds some additional drama to their personal dramas. The changes that have been made in the second season emphasize the characters’ multiple problems even more than last year, which is probably what the show had to do to succeed, so I can’t  really complain about that. I also probably don’t even need to remind people that they shouldn’t expect […]