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The Launch of 谈判 (Tan2 Pan4)

Author’s Note: For those readers who do not speak or read Chinese, the words and numbers in brackets indicate how to pronounce and intonate the Chinese characters indicated

I was recently given the honour of launching 谈判 (Tan2 Pan4): The Chinese-English Journal on Negotiation at the 3rd Asian Mediation Association Conference held in Hong Kong on 3-4 April 2014. This journal was a themed edition titled “Who says you’re a mediator?”

Not having launched anything (apart from paper aeroplanes) in my life, I was initially at a loss for what to say. As I thought about this journal and what it hoped to achieve, I realized that there was quite a fair bit to say. I would like to introduce this j [...]

Lessons From Geneva

Like many of us, I listened with rapt attention to the reporting from Geneva of the Syrian peace talks last week. So much is at stake. And so much of it feels very familiar to me as a mediator.

One particularly interesting item was a radio interview last Saturday with a Syrian media officer who appeared to have been very present and involved in the talks, though I don’t recall in what capacity. The interview was followed by coverage of a press conference with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-appointed mediator. From what the two of them had to say, I was reminded of a number of things central to what we do as mediators:

1. The humanising effects of talking, or even just being in the same ro [...]

All it takes is just a little patience…

I’m not sure conflict resolution is quite what Guns n Roses had in mind when they wrote those lyrics but having survived the festive season, which in itself always requires a good deal of patience, I decided to reflect on just how important and valuable the gift of patience is for anyone trying to work with conflict. Actually, what really triggered my thinking about patience was not what I was doing over the holidays but rather what Richard Haass and his colleague, Meghan O’Sullivan were trying to do in Belfast over the holidays.

Against a background of a year of heightened tensions and increased violence in the North, Mr. Haass and Ms. O’Sullivan were asked to chair a series of meeti [...]

The Argument As A Persuasive Tool In Negotiation

There is a famous sketch by Monty Python in which the lead character (Michael Palin) is looking to buy a five-minute argument. He walks into an office where the receptionist offers him some options. One of the options involves a person who is too conciliatory. She decides that there is a good argument available and directs him to a private room where another character swears at him and basically terrorizes him with ‘abuse’. Palin complains, indicating he was looking for an argument. The abuser apologizes and indicates that Palin has entered the wrong room; that he has entered the ‘abuse’ room, and directs him to the argument room down the hall.

Palin enters the argument room and th [...]

Fretboard Logic: Learning From the Guitar How to Value Your Case

The Problem: You think that your client’s pain is so severe and different than the typical client that you value the case substantially higher than the other side will pay.

The Solution: Understand what “category” your adversary has put your case in and either accept it or try to create a new category of value.

Consider the guitar fretboard for a moment. It is a complex maze of horizontal, vertical and perpendicular dimensions to achieve sound that stretch across a think plank of wood up to 25 inches. Its beauty lies in the ability of the player to form similar sounds anywhere on the board. It is intricate and elegant at the same time. Most average guitarists (myself included) tend to [...]

Successful Negotiators Smoke

Here is a confession. I have a theory (in the best traditions of Monty Python). It is totally untested. I am pretty certain that it would not survive rigorous, double-blind trials. It may, however, contain some seeds of insight.

My theory – wait for it – is that mediations where one or more of the senior negotiators smoke (and I mean tobacco, not other substances) are more likely to result in settlement.

I shall call it “Bill’s Law” – to rank alongside “Sod’s Law”, “Murphy’s Law” and “Parkinson’s Law”.

Now hold that thought, suspend judgement, and travel with me back to 1999-2002. The venue is the UN in New York and Vienna. I travelled to those venues [...]

Canadian Mediation Potpourri

A potpourri of mediation-related reflections as the holiday break fades from memory.

Hockey Mediation - With last Saturday’s puck drops in 13 cities the National Hockey League has commenced its lockout-shortened season. Full arenas around the league confirm the strength of the game’s drawing power if not the forgive-and-forget sentiments of long-suffering fans.

Readers of this Blog will know that mediation played an important role in bringing the lock-out to an end. This article shines much-deserved light on the mediator and his role is achieving the settlement.

Although this was an American mediator working with primarily American negotiators in New York City I continue to consider this fi [...]

Planning to Settle Complex Employment Cases? Ten Tips to Increase Your Chance of Success

Mediating complex employment cases is like rehearsing for a concerto. The conductor spends a substantial amount of time reviewing the score, while the musicians practice the piece both individually and collectively. Hours and hours of practice result in one concert. Malcolm Gladwell, in his recent book ‘Outliers,’ describes the phenomenon of hugely successful people and how they achieved their success through planning and preparation. For example, the Beatles rehearsed and played their music for at least 10,000 hours before they were ready for the Ed Sullivan Show. That’s not to say it’s necessary to spend that much time preparing for an employment mediation, but the potential for su [...]

A Singapore Development: Agreements to Negotiate in Good Faith

I would like to focus this blog entry on a recent development of Singapore relating to agreements to agree/negotiate in good faith and some of the practical consequences that can arise from this case.

In the English common law, the traditional position has been that an agreement to agree or an agreement to negotiate was unenforceable. As the risk of simplification, the thinking behind this position was that such agreements were too uncertain to be enforceable. While the writer can and has gone into the reasons elsewhere why agreements to negotiate should be treated differently from agreements to agree and that a case can be made for the former types of agreement to be enforceable, the write [...]

Beyond mediation: how conflict coaching might help your practice

In this posting I want to reflect on how, as a mediator, I’ve learnt much from the related but independent conflict management process, called conflict coaching. Before I get ahead of myself, however, let me start by offering an explanation of conflict coaching.

Conflict coaching is a service provided by a conflict specialist to a person who is, or may in the future be, involved in conflict. According to the REAL Conflict Coaching model, coaches assist clients to develop the 5 Cs:
CLARITY: Gain clarity about the conflict situation;
COMPREHENSION: Understand their own, and the other person’s, needs and goals;
CHOICES: Identify and evaluate their choices for moving forward;