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How Can We Help in Major Social Conflicts, If At All?

by John Lande
January 2015

Indisputably

John Lande

I have gotten emails from dispute resolution colleagues asking what we, in Missouri’s dispute resolution center, might do (or might have done) to help manage the conflict at our university more constructively.

For years, some folks in our DR community have noted despairingly that we aren’t engaged in major conflicts like the one that has been unfolding here.  Sure, we are called to handle relatively small matters, but the feeling is that people don’t recognize us as competent, relevant, likely to be helpful etc. in these major conflicts.

Of course, some of us are involved in managing major conflicts – especially those who do that for a living – but, as a field, probably not as much as we might.  I think particularly of the US Community Relations Service, which takes the initiative to intervene in conflicts like these.  Those of us in academia, however, may not have the skills, experience, or time to intervene directly.

We could provide training, certainly after a crisis like ours and perhaps even ahead of time.  If so, what should we teach? Transformational mediators and Bernie Mayer argue that we are too focused on resolution rather than constructive engagement.  Or is a focus on problem-solving necessary when there are intense social conflicts with a lot at stake?

The University of Missouri has had a Difficult Dialogues Program, which my colleague, Paul Ladehoff, has been part of.  If the events we have experienced occurred at your school, community, business etc., do you think a program like that is likely to make a difference?

What do you think we could do that realistically might make a difference?  And that would be wanted by the parties?  What could and should we do?

At base, this is raises the question of whether our field is relevant for conflicts like these and, if not, is that a problem?

Biography


John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and former director of its LLM Program in Dispute Resolution.  He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He began mediating professionally in 1982 in California. He was a fellow at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and the Director of the Mediation Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law School. His work focuses on various aspects of dispute systems design, including publications analyzing how lawyering and mediation practices transform each other, business lawyers’ and executives’ opinions about litigation and ADR, designing court-connected mediation programs, improving the quality of mediation practice, the “vanishing trial,” and planned early negotiation.   The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution gave him its award for best professional article for Principles for Policymaking about Collaborative Law and Other ADR Processes, 22 Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution 619 (2007). The ABA recently published his book, Lawyering with Planned Early Negotiation: How You Can Get Good Results for Clients and Make Money.  His website, where you can download his publications, is http://www.law.missouri.edu/lande.



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