Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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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 […]

The quote of the week might be from Republican Congressman Marlin Stutzman of Indiana who summed up his side’s dilemma last Tuesday as follows: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” How many mediators have heard parties make similar statements? I’m guessing most have. The inability of Democrats and Republicans in Congress to reach an agreement that will allow the government to continue to operate and pay its bills, something both sides presumably want, serves as a good illustration of how conflict itself can paralyze the parties trapped in it, and can prevent parties even from accomplishing things they might be able to agree on. We could […]

Yesterday, Congress managed to pass legislation avoiding some of the potential negative effects of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Most political analysts are trying to figure out whether this negotiated outcome is a victory for Democrats or Republicans. That is the wrong question to ask. The right question is whether the deal is better for each side than the alternative of failing to make a deal. Since the public, as well as the stock market, would have looked very unfavorably on the failure to make a deal, the agreement is clearly a win for both sides. Whether one side or the other gave up more of their original positions to achieve the deal probably reflects the relative bargaining strength of each […]

Anyone who has still been following budget negotiations in Congress has no doubt noticed that they have reached another interesting stage.  Recall that last summer Congress struck a deal in which Republicans agreed to go along with raising the debt ceiling, in exchange for appointing a super committee to come up with additional debt reduction measures. The deal was that if the super-committee could not agree on such measures, then automatic spending cuts, that were designed to be unpalatable to both sides, would take effect. Well, of course in November the super-committee failed to agree (because Democrats insisted that revenue enhancements be part of the mix, and Republicans refused to consider that), and now Congress is faced with the prospect […]

Ryan Lizza’s article, “The Obama Memos,” in this week’s New Yorker, contains some inside information explaining how candidate Obama’s promises to usher in a new style of politics, ran into the realities of a Congress that is more partisan than ever before. Commentators like Paul Krugman have jumped on the bandwagon, chiding President Obama for being so naive in thinking he could “transcend partisanship.” Now conventional wisdom seems to suggest that President Obama has abandoned any efforts at bi-partisanship, and is going to come out swinging at Congress and the Republican opposition during this election year. The headline in the LA Times, for example, called this week’s State of the Union speech a “confrontational” address. All of this feeds into […]