Monday, July 16, 2007

A Win-Win Solution In Mediation & Politics

Mediators like to talk about win-win solutions in theory. And in practice, a win-win result is the goal of mediators boiled down to its nicely cliched essence.

Mediators are trained to draw information and ideas out of disputing or negotiating parties that will help to put a deal together that works better for all the parties involved than any other possible solution could. Sometimes the options for settlement truly are limited to the division of a set thing (money or time or something else), in which case we spend our time in mediation working out how big each party's piece of the existing pie will be. Both parties have to compromise or give in a little (or a lot) in order for each side to be satisfied just enough to seal the deal. But the results of such a tug-of-war usually are not satisfying and the process itself is emotionally similar to litigation.

That's not the way most mediators like to work. We prefer to spend our time expanding the pie that is to be divided. We ask questions and explore ideas in order to increase the options available to the parties so that the parties can walk away feeling stronger and more confident in their new partnerships or newly developed concepts or settlements instead of war-weary from an all-day tug-of-war over a single item over which nobody wants to budge.

This is what I was thinking about when I read a Newsweek article by columnist Anna Quindlen, in which Ms. Quindlen proposes to Hillary Clinton that she "Make it your business to persuade Barack Obama to be your running mate." In searching the Internet on this topic, I see this is not the first time this has been suggested.

Here's what else Ms. Quindlen says:
"But [the Clinton-Gore ticket] was nothing compared with the excitement that would ensue if you eschewed your customary caution and asked Obama to join you in creating the first real 21st-century ticket. It's not simply that with one fell swoop you would solidify the two largest blocs of Democratic support, but that the historic nature of the pairing would galvanize the race and make any Republican slate seem so same-old. Every politician likes to talk about a new era. The day the Clinton-Obama ticket is announced would really be one for the history books."

What a great idea for the Democrats (regardless of my own leanings, or yours). I wondered why I had not thought of that as a creative solution to the issues both of these candidates are currently facing. The idea is a bit out of the ordinary even though in searching the Internet, I see others have previously made this suggestion and support groups are forming. This would clearly be a compromise of sorts for both candidates but it quite obviously solves the problem of having two relatively strong candidates with neither one over-wowing their constituents on their own and being closely enough aligned in their values and beliefs that they could strengthen both of their positions by joining forces. (Click here for the full Newsweek article.)

This kind of thinking is exactly what we strive for in mediation. Remember, it's still a compromise and for this to work, it would involve both individuals having to swallow a bit of their own egos, but that's nothing compared with neither of them succeeding because of the perceived weaknesses each has on her and his own.

Great ideas like this are usually something thrown out in mediation as a casual, maybe offhanded remark by the mediator, or an attorney or party, that gets picked up and twirled around by someone else in the room and suddenly everyone starts looking around the room as the "aha!" moment descends because we're all thinking at the same time: "Aha! This is the perfect solution! Now why didn't I think of that??" This is a great example of a win-win solution.

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