What brought the parties to the table?


Nancy Ferrell


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So it's a matter of keeping the group that they're boycotting sensitive and really giving them a way to save face and come to the table. That's probably the biggest challenge. Q - How do you do that? A - Using their public interests, and good will. "You know, you may even shut this plant down, but what's it going to look like to the national community when it becomes public knowledge?Ē You can gain a lot from interfacing and having somebody like me in there, giving them a way of coming to the table without saying, "You're right." Again, it's the very same discussion. If they feel like you're not sensitive to their needs for education and you're just taking advantage of them as workers and they're wanting you to institute GED programs, what's it going to cost you to do that? What do you gain from it? And you've got to figure out a way for it to be in their self interest to do it. And I would sometimes do research on other companies that had done stuff like that. I would bring information to them and say, "This is what happened to production. Production went up." So they gain more. The organization gained more from that than they lost. We did a really long mediation with Levi Strauss one time. They were closing a plant in San Antonio. The community's perception about who they are as an organization was very important to them, so they weren't difficult to bring around. Generally, it becomes an ego thing and both sides become entrenched. So then you've got to figure out a way to let them save face and come out of that entrenched position. If there's no potential for a long-term relationship, it's probably not ever going to settle, short of both groups being destroyed, economically or whatever. These people lose their jobs, these people lose the plant. But you try to find a place where you can bring them to a joint, mutually beneficial goal. Save the plant, save our jobs, but get some of our needs met. Also give them that place where they can stay safe. "Yeah, I understand how they feel, but we didn't do anything wrong." And itís really as simple as that sometimes. Q - Now how do you save face if the one side is steadfastly refusing to negotiate? It seems like just the act of sitting down at the table, in a sense, is losing face. Because then they're saying, "Well, I was wrong before, I guess I will talk to you." A - Yes. But, you have to get them to a point where it's in their interest to come to the table. You have to come up with some reason. For example, in the community where the Iranian students were. Everybody I talked to, from the officials side, did not feel there was a problem. Not until I was able to point out that there was an economic reality. If I hadn't thought about that, I'm not sure that we'd have done anything except try to bring some referrals for the students in terms of getting some legal redress. There was some misunderstanding about what the US law's limitations and realities were. The Iranian students were expecting some things from the local police that they couldn't deliver. So that was a part of the dynamics then, the education. We also found out that the high school students didn't have a clear understanding of what law enforcement limits and responsibilities were. So we did some orientation with them as well as the Iranian students and the college students. Without some personal interest, they're not going to come to the table. Your job is to find out what's in their interest and try to point that out.





Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Did you ever tell the administration or the authorities that you're going to be working with the minority group and then they thought that would make the minority group even more powerful, so maybe they'd better get you working with them too?

Answer:
Yeah, could be. They definitely don't want to be left out of the loop, nor do they want to be perceived as not being cooperative. And that's a plus. Again, they say they want to cooperate, they say they want things to be better. I'll take their word. Then the minority groups says, "They've been saying that for years, but they don't really mean it. I know they don't really mean it." "Well, I'm going to trust that they mean it. Let's see what happens. One of the biggest factors is, what could it hurt to try? It won't cost you anything, the government's paying me. You've tried and tried and tried. So the cost factor, what's it going to cost you if you do this. Give me a couple of months, you could still do anything you want after that. But is it worth one more try?" Again, most people say, "Yes, it's worth one more." On the other side, "Could it be better? Not that you're bad, not that you're the worst people in the whole world, not that you've done everything wrong, but could you at least see that the relationships between these two groups of people could be better?" "Sure they could be better." Okay, then let's see what we could do." So you're taking people at the pragmatic level. They have low expectations, but let's see if we can make things better. Again, I'm dancing them into a more intricate kind of process that has long term benefit.






Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
We talked yesterday about the theory we developed, based on talks with a lot of people, about what we call intractable or resolution-resistant conflicts. We came to the conclusion that conflicts were more resolution resistant if they involved very high stakes and distributional kinds of questions. They were also more resistant if they involved fundamental moral differences, or what we call domination conflicts, pecking order conflicts, or identity conflicts. All of these tend to be involved in race issues. I threw this out at you yesterday, and you said that the factor we hadn't been thinking about was the need for relationship. If there was a need for relationship between people, then they would be willing to negotiate on those things. Are there other factors we're not thinking about?

Answer:
Another factor is the partyís or the individual's ability to look beyond their current power position. If they can't perceive themselves in an honorable way, beyond this entrenched position, then the issue's not negotiable. That's why I always ask, "What is in your interest?" If I can't help them identify an interest that serves their needs beyond this entrenched position, it won't work. I can explain to them, "You have the power to direct authoritarian decision making on this plan, but what is it getting you? What might happen if you're willing to move in a different direction? Is it worth that?" If they say it's not worth that, then I'll tell these people what to do. If they don't do that, they're out of here, they're not going to negotiate. Again, at that point, I'm not looking for them to understand the other party's interest. I'm looking for something to catch their interest. So if they're so entrenched that they can't see hope of personal interest served -- beyond this entrenched position -- they're not going to move out of it. That's when I would say, "Call me."

Question:
You mean if they change their mind?

Answer:
Yes. I think one of my propensities was to keep moving beyond their real interest. They would have to be really overt to me and say, "Go away." As long as they just danced around it and kept the door open, I just kept moving forward. Generally that worked out, although sometimes they slammed the door. I think that's one of the skills of the mediator, to understand whether or not it's mediatable. If you canít help that party see beyond the entrenched position, then it's not going to be mediated. I use it in the 40 hour mediation class. For example, one of the barriers may be authority. It's a big rock. Here's the mediator, they're the fulcrum underneath this lever. As the mediator, I'm trying to get this party off of its entrenched position in order to see the benefits of the mediation. If I can't come up with something to put on the other side, then it won't level out and it's not going to work.

Answer:
So the mediator is looking for a leverage point to move people out of their entrenched position, to get them to consider a negotiation. In family situations, children are often the point. Sometimes it's money. "How many resources are you going to use supporting that intrenched position? Are you willing to consider another option?" So you've got to find that leverage point. If you can't find it, and I don't say many things absolutely, but that's where you would have an intractable conflict. If they had found that point already, they wouldn't be there. So, all your incredible skills have to involve helping find that leverage point. It's either going to be a common interest or a personal interest. A common interest gives you the possibility of a richer mediation. A personal interest can at least get you to the table and create some sort of contractual relationship to the conflict. If you can get them toward a common interest, that's where the payoff is. That's when I try and transform those relationships by the process. But sometimes the best you can do, because of personal interest, is to get to some contractual relationship. It's better than nothing. Abortion is another example I use. With the abortion issue, there is no common leverage for either side to move off that intrenched position. You're wasting your time. The best you can do is work with the majority of people who are in the middle and try to bring reason to the extremes. That's what has happened in these big international affairs, like Kosovo. They don't have a middle. In Ireland, there's become this middle group who says these intrenched positions are killing us. That's where you need to start focusing your energy, is in that middle group, in helping and nurturing and supporting. Then the light's on, and these two intrenched positions are no longer acceptable and the community often has to move on beyond them. They'll still be agitating back here, but the group as a whole has been able to create some life to move forward.






Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What did you do when parties were resistant to what you had to offer?

Answer:
I think most parties, at the outset, are resistant because they don't understand what you have to offer. Like I said earlier, the approach was to try and figure out what their self interest was and appeal to that. I never, especially with the establishment, went under the illusion that I could appeal to their higher good. That may come, that might be what brings them along further, but it's not going to be what gets them to engage. The thing that's going to get them to engage is what it's going to cost them if they don't do this. What's it going to cost? Is it worth trying? At that entry level, I generally was very pragmatic, not idealistic. We talk about personal successes when I see those people understanding, and clearly knowing what they've done, and they feel horrible about it. That's very abstract, but that doesn't happen if you start there. My experience shows you have to start with pragmatism. People respond to that.







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