Dispute Resolution in Everyday Life

The science and skills of negotiation and mediation are intertwined. Both depend on communication, listening, and empathy to achieve the desired result. While essential to dispute resolution professions, there are constant opportunities to utilize these skills in everyday life. With this in mind, a story on the front page of the New York Times caught my eye. It’s headline references the famous Fisher and Ury book, “Getting to Yes,” a step-by-step strategy for coming to mutual agreements in every sort of conflict.

The article, “Getting to Yes: A Nursing Home’s Mission to Vaccinate Its Hesitant Staff,” describes the efforts of Tina Sandri, the CEO of Forest Hills nursing home, to persuade the facility’s staff to get the Covid-19 vaccine.  

Getting to Yes

Sandri started her mission with the tools typical of teaching and marketing. She gathered information for those who approach decisions analytically, used the appeal of a famous actor advocating for the vaccine, and recruited a popular influencer within the ranks of the nursing home staff. She also had community and church leaders to speak to the facility. Sandri was careful not to pressure the staff to take the vaccine. Instead, she sought to persuade them, recognizing the need to understand each individual’s unique perspective on the vaccine.

This quote of Sandri, whom the article notes is of Chinese descent, stood out:

“I’m Asian, but I’m not Japanese or Thai or Indian, and they are very different people. Until we understand cultural sensitivities beyond the major skin color groups, we’re not going to be successful at reaching herd immunity levels with some of those subsets.”  

She realized that in order to assist anyone in working through a conflict, it is essential to determine what factors frame the individual’s perceptions and meet them on their own terms. Here was a CEO of a nursing home learning the principles of negotiation and mediation skills through firsthand experience.

Meet Them Where They Are

This resonated with my other weekend reading – “The Mediator’s Toolkit” by Gerry O’Sullivan. The book begins by taking the reader through the neuroscience of disputes, down to the brain chemistry that occurs when a person is faced with conflict. The reason is to prepare the mediator to meet the individual where they are – subjective perceptions of the facts, biases of all sorts, stress hormones and all – to re-engage their pre-frontal cortex, where most rational thought occurs, with an openness to rethinking the conflict.  

Everyday Life

These readings emphasize that life is full of opportunities to employ the skills mediators rely on regularly. No one describes better than Kwame Christian, an author, speaker and Director of the American Negotiation Institute. Kwame helps his audience recognize that negotiation and peacemaking are part of everyday life. He uses examples from the common relationships we all have. Partners making household decisions, friends deciding on a restaurant, and the peacemaking role of a parent to young children. Kwame’s point is that once we recognize that we are regularly using the skills of dispute resolution in everyday life, we may mitigate the discomfort of conflict.

We can connect his points back to what we learned from Sandri and O’Sullivan. If we decrease this discomfort, the cloud over our rational thinking will decrease, and we can move more rapidly to genuine problem-solving. With the pre-frontal cortex now engaged, they will be more willing to explore the deeper issues involved in a dispute. They will also be more capable of listening to the perceptions of the other side, and able to generate creative suggestions for potential resolutions.  

Make Them Comfortable

The lesson from Sandri’s story, supplemented by Christian and O’Sullivan, is that parties need to be made comfortable. Time, communication, or recognition that it’s just another life decision is how its done. This calms the initial limbic brain functions and allows people to get on with the addressing the situation. This first essential step requires special attention to the specific triggers that activate individual’s reactions.

Mediators and negotiators are taught this lesson. Sandri came to this conclusion through experience. For the rest of us, our world offers daily opportunities for its practice.  


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