“There is always a large horizon… There is much to be done… It is up to you to contribute some small part to a program of human betterment for all time.”

Frances Perkins

From “I Can’t” to “I Can”

Negotiations often get stuck in seemingly insurmountable standoffs. New possibilities can emerge when a capable third party is introduced into the equation. As a mediator, you can bring the perspective of being outside the situation to bring a little daylight into the impenetrable darkness of an intractable conflict. From outside the context, you may be able to see things the parties can’t. You have the ability to pose questions and suggest possible ideas without being invested in either side’s positions. You can facilitate effective communication and joint problem-solving. Your aim is an agreement that meets the underlying interests of both sides.

Oftentimes, the biggest blocks aren’t just between the parties but within the parties. During the Colombian peace negotiations with the FARC, for example, William Ury was called upon to informally mediate internal negotiations on one of the hardest issues: transitional justice.

Practice Help

  1. Shuttle diplomacy – iterate and itinerate. Use a third party to privately convey information and ideas back and forth between the parties.
  2. Use a 1-Text. Create a single working document that captures the issues and addresses the interests of both parties. Invite both parties to critique the draft document and then incorporate their comments in successive revisions to get closer to an agreement that satisfies the interests of all parties.
  3. Circulate an angel paper (with an iconic photo). Insert ideas into the process without taking credit, as if they came down from the heavens. Include an iconic photo to visualize success and help people viscerally feel what’s possible.

Audio Story

This week, we go with William to Bogotá, Colombia, in 2015, where he is serving as a senior advisor during negotiations to end the brutal 50-year civil war. The internal delegation is at an impasse, stuck in internal conflict, and the fate of the entire negotiation is at risk. Through a surprising act of mediation, made possible with the perspective of the third side, the parties break through. William shows us that any one of us can take the third side at any time.