Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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This video has been making the rounds for awhile, so I’m sure a lot of readers have already seen it. It’s from a British game show that ends with a variant of the prisoner’s dilemma problem that a lot of us study in mediation programs. Nick has evidently figured out that he can never be sure he will be able to persuade Ibriham that he will be fair. And even if he could, that might only encourage Ibriham to take advantage. So Nick adopts the novel strategy of trying to persuade Ibriham that Nick will make the selfish move, in order to force Ibriham to make the only play that can possibly benefit both of them. Then Nick can be gracious and show that he too is a fair and decent person. A strange but effective way to a win-win solution.

Can this technique be applied in negotiation? I watched a few of these end games on YouTube, and it seems the mistake some players make is to spend all their time trying to persuade the other side that they are decent people who will do the right thing and share the proceeds. The trouble is, the other side might not believe that, and even if they do, that kind of speech might only persuade a greedy opponent to try to steal the whole pot. Instead, negotiators should be trying to persuade their adversary that it is in the adversary’s best interest to make the unselfish choice. In other words, don’t keep trying to justify your side’s position in a negotiation. Instead, talk about why the deal you are proposing serves the interests of the other side, and is better than the alternative. To do that, it might be worth reminding the other side that they don’t have to like you; they don’t have to sympathize with you; they don’t have to believe you are a good person; they don’t even have to trust you. They can assume the worst about you and should still do what is more likely to be in both parties’ best interests.