Negotiation has come a long way. A once purely adversarial, one-time event has evolved into a relationship-based, ongoing process that puts a premium on empathy and co-operation. This author, an expert educator who has played a critical role in improving negotiators’ skills and the results they achieve, discusses the substantial changes that have occurred in how negotiations are conducted today.
Ivey Business Journal, July/August 2004Linda Stamato
There is a new day in Morningside Heights since Lee Bollinger took over the presidency of Columbia University. Pressed by the need to expand but aware of the spectacle of 1968 when his predecssor, seeking to expand into Harlem and build a gymnasium in Morningside Park touched off a campus rebellion and opposition among local residents, Bollinger decided to establish a 40-memberr community advisory council as it prepared to embark on its plan to creatae a new campus on 18 acres bound by 125th Street, Broadway, 12th Avenue and 133rd Street. It sponsored town hall meetings to solicit comments and worked with Comunity Board 9 whose district includes West Harlem. Columbia is seeking to be “part of building the community” according to Bollinger (New York Times: 4/21/04, B8), and has incorporated a number of design principles that came from the community discussion,s notably retaining current streets and building designs that invite pedeestraisn to move west toward the river, enlivening 125th Street as a gateway to the Hudson River waterfront, aligning with city and state efforts to improve the piers for recreation and commuting purposes. At the same time, Bollinger is working with the community to create job traing programs and to provide both construction and technical job opportunities. He is also looking to work with the community to expand ways in which Columbia can provide space for community arts, theater and dance as it expands.
Inclusive, participative processes that seeks to broaden and deepen the links between institutions, developers and communities reflect another significant dimension of the field of negotiation and conflict resolution, that having to do with improving processes for decision-making, involving those who are part of and likely to be affected by decisions, and attempting to produce outcomes that are satisfactory, even optimal, and that sustain and build relationships that last.Linda Stamato, Sanford Jaffe
A major development, concerning the management of negotiations to create a trust fund to compensate people made sick by asbestos exposre, brings mediation to the national legislative process. Unable to agree on the terms for creating the trust fund, U.S. Senate leaders have agreed to enter mediation. A federal judge, Judge Edward Becker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, is mediating.
In agreeing to participate in the mediation, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the Minority Leader, wrote the following to Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Majority Leader: “An inclusive approach holds the best promise for moving toward a consensus solution of this very contentious and consequential issue.”
The legislation is needed, advocates for victims and insurers agree, as a wave of lawsuits clog the country’s courthouses. Roughly 730,000 asbestos claims have been filed, including over 110,000 last year, according to a study by the Rand Institute for Civil Justice (reported in The Star Ledger, 4/23/04, pg.6). The cost of the litigation is approximately $70 billion and almost 70 companies have filed for bankruptcy protection under the weight of the lawsuits. The legislation, under consideration, aimed to create a trust fund financed by businesses and insurance companies. Officials from both political parties agree that something needs to be done to improve the system but they disagree on what to provide, in structure and financial resources.
The clear and pressing need for a resolution motivates the parties, and, certainly, the agreement to engage in mediation to reach a legislative compromise is a new and intriguing turn in the dispute resolution field.Linda Stamato, Sanford Jaffe
by Linda Stamato
The recent outbreaks of violent conflict at Morristown High School raise a number of concerns and issues for the school community. Not the least among them is finding ways to deal effectively with the differences that lead to destructive behavior. A major barrier can often be the very limited set of responses we have to conflict in this society.
As we know, contentiousness pervades the culture, and, often, neighborhoods and schools can become hostile arenas in which individuals and groups contest with and intimidate others and polarize their communities.
While conflict is natural, acceptable and probably essential to progress, a civil society must provide constructive avenues for its expression and management. What is required is an approach that builds social cohesion as it deals with differences and tries to solve problems.
Schools need to have educational programs that expose students to negotiation and conflict-resolution processes and that teach them problem-solving skills; they need to reduce reliance on dispute-handling processes that are formal and adversarial and place more emphasis on positive and creative ways to handle conflict. They need to install programs that value these approaches whether or not they have experienced outbreaks of violence.
In most cases, mediation is the preferred path. Mediation, the non-adversarial management (and resolution) of disputes by parties with the assistance of a neutral helper, provides a context to keep conflict from becoming destructive. Across the nation, schools — more than 8,000 at last reckoning — have created programs that train students to mediate disputes among their peers; some train the entire school staff and administration and, in some cases, parents are trained as well.
In some schools, conflict manage- nient is integrated into regular, ongoing classroom subjects, such as history antisocial studies. There are variations among programs, but one common element underscores their success: they are designed and developed by those who will use them.
School mediation programs have been around long enough to have allowed for some first-rate research from which I draw a few observations.
Schools operating in New York City and Chicago, for example, and in New Mexico and Wisconsin, saw suspension rates for fighting drop dramatically, often by more than 50 percent; students who went through mediation froquently became mediators themselves later; follow-up interviews indicated that more than 90 percent of mediated agreements remained intact, and the vast majority of disputants found mediation satisfying and useful.
Direct beriefits are fairly transparent: peer mediation almost always produces k workable and stable (but often simple) agreement. Indirect benefits include the following: increased school involvement, positive interaction among diverse ethnic/racial groups, improved cognitive skills, improved academic performance and what could be called a more positive sense of self.
And, participants in school mediation programs were also likely to increase their skills in listening, problern-solving, oral language expression, critical thinking and empathy. School “climate,” too, showed significant improvement.
Research also finds that before, training, students often leave conflicts unresolved, but after training, students tend.to resolve conflicts through discussion and negotiation; students’ attitudes toward conflict and the school climate tend to be more positive, discipline problems and suspensions tend to decrease, and school personnel and parents tend to become more positive toward the programs.
One critical finding should certainly comnmand attention in our community: that there are many conflicts among young people and that they occur frequently in schools. That is no surprise. But what is striking is that untrained students by and large use conflict-resolution strategies that create destructive outcomes. Where there are conflict-resolution and peer-mediation programs, on the other hand, and students are taught integrative negotiation and mediation procedures, students tend to use these conflict strategies, and constructive outcomes tend to result.
Clearly, mediation has a good deal of promise. It offers a model for students to develop the capacity for problem solving, for understanding and dealing with differences, for fostering mutual respect and coopera- tion; and for developing the use of fairness rather than power as a basis for resolving disputes.
This kind of service involvement in the life of the school not only serves to benefit the individual and that community directly, but students are likely to stay engaged, as citizens, in their communities once they have graduated and, thus, contribute to the civic health of society.
Linda Stamato is co-director of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Conflict Resolution at Rutgers University. She lives in Morristown.Linda Stamato