Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Getting to Yes We Can: What the Presidential Campaign Teaches about Dispute Resolution

Twenty-seven years since the publication of Getting to Yes (Fisher & Ury 1981), we have a President-elect whose campaign was based on the slogan of "Yes We Can." The lessons about dispute resolution that emerged from this unprecedented American election come right from the pages of Getting to Yes, a book that must have made an impression on Barack Obama when he was a student at Harvard. First, "separate the people from the problem." Obama attacked policy, not people, frustrating some who said he did not fight back hard enough when he was purposely attacked. Ultimately, however, the electorate favored a positive message over the negative. Second, Obama emphasized objective standards and evidence to support his policies, not gut instinct or stubborn certitude alone. Third, Obama's decision-making strategy is based on generating a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do. As he said in his acceptance speech, "I will listen to you, especially when we disagree." Finally, both candidates demonstrated the importance of personal narrative: telling the people over and over again, who they are and where they came from -- personal stories so compelling that together they got over 117 million people to close the deal with an exercise of the precious right to vote. Let all who are interested in dispute resolution learn from this campaign how to get to yes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Resolve disputes by letting people tell their side of the story

Mediation can help resolve disputes and settle cases through the simple device of allowing the parties to tell their side of the story. People have a compelling need to tell their story to someone who is an empathic listener. Lawsuits are not a great vehicle for accomplishing the telling of a personal narrative: once a lawsuit is threatened or pending, the ability of the aggrieved parties to speak from the heart is stifled by legal procedures, attorneys' advice, and the lengthy delay between injury and trial. At mediation, the parties to a dispute get the chance to talk at three different opportunities: first, they can tell their side of the story to the mediator and the other side during the initial joint caucus; second, they can tell their side of the story to the mediator in private caucus; third, they can tell their side of the story to the opposing party in a private conversation, outside of the presence of the mediator or attorneys, but within the context of the mediation session. These opportunities to share what they think happened to them, the impact of the dispute on their lives, and to hear the point of view of the other disputant -- all in a confidential setting -- provide the cathartic venting that is essential to moving on into the future. It often leads to resolution without the pain and risk of additional litigation.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mediation: When is it time to quit?

One judgment call mediators must make is when to give up after, despite lengthy and frequent attempts to settle, parties have reached an impasse.

President George Bush - - who is said to be mediating the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, as did other U.S. Presidents before him - - commented earlier this week:

"It's essential that people understand, America cannot dictate the terms of what a state will look like," he added. "The only way to have lasting peace, the only way for an agreement to mean anything is for the two parties to come together and make the difficult choices, but we'll help and we want to help." (NYT, A8, 1/10/08).

Without commenting on the geopolitical aspects of President Bush's comments, please offer your opinion on when it is appropriate for a mediator to "call it a day" and declare an end to his/her attempts to help parties settle a dispute. I will use these comments in an article I am working on and will be glad to give you attribution if you wish.