Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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It being a weak weekend for new movies, we decided to settle for The November Man, a grade B thriller starring Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, a retired CIA agent who is lured out of his comfortable life in Lausanne to perform another mission that takes him first to Moscow and then to Belgrade. He’s a cold-blooded killer, but eventually we learn that he might have some soft spots. I’m not going to summarize the convoluted and somewhat predictable plot, but will jump right to the moral dilemma at the heart of the story. It involves a Russian politician, Arkady Federov, who is on the verge of being elected the next Russian president. The CIA is interested in helping […]

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 […]

Lawsuits present two competing versions of events, or at least two different interpretations of the same events. In most cases, that just means that the two sides remember those events differently, or interpret their significance differently. Some lawsuits, however, give the fact-finder no alternative but to find that one side is lying and the other side is telling the truth. I mediated a couple of cases in the latter category recently. One involved a claim of forgery. Another involved a claim that a car accident had been staged to defraud the insurance carrier. These cases made me think about the different methods we use to determine which side is telling the truth in litigation, and in mediation. Trials contain a […]

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 […]

As anyone who has made it through my four part series of posts on Aeschylus already knows, I’ve spent a little time thinking about the evolution of our legal system from earliest times. One can trace the history of our system of justice from a cycle of revenge killings, to a divinely-inspired system of earthly justice, to the beginnings of a third stage, interest-based approach represented by the growth of alternative dispute resolution. An article in this month’s Atlantic magazine by Cullen Murphy, adapted from his new book on the Inquisition, makes some interesting points about the place of torture in this history, and our continuing connections to the methods developed during the Inquisition. Although we think of torture as […]