“With Mediator, Boeing and Union to Renew Contract Talks,” read the headline in The New York Times this week. In an effort to jump-start their negotiation to resolve a 45-day strike, Boeing and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers agreed to involve a mediator from the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Last week, the parties’ most recent attempt at direct bargaining ended in failure.
Asking an independent third-party to mediate – or help them communicate and negotiate, but not make the decision – can be a very effective impasse-breaking strategy. Why?
1. Many mediators are professionally trained and highly skilled in utilizing research-based and proven negotiation strategies and tactics. As such, they can help parties resolve difficult issues by independently and often expertly controlling the agenda and the negotiation process.
2. Mediators bring a truly independent, objective and often expert voice to the negotiation process that the parties cannot easily discount, thus increasing their ability to get the parties to make moves they might not otherwise make.
Other advantages to mediation, many of which were noted in Howard Raiffa’s classic, The Art and Science of Negotiation: How to Resolve Conflicts and Get the Best Out of Bargaining, include:
• Efficiently helping parties explore their fundamental values and interests and how they define “success,”
• Helping determine where the parties have shared, compatible, and conflicting interests and selectively, where useful, sharing such information with the other party or parties,
• Providing a largely independent, realistic, and possibly expert assessment of all the parties’ needs and alternatives (their leverage) and assisting the parties in determining when to walk and when to fold, and
• Managing the offer-concession dynamic in a way that can reduce the role of the parties’ egos and increase the parties’ chances of reaching agreement.
In short, skilled mediators can help parties successfully engage in almost all aspects of the negotiation process.
Look, I don’t know if the mediator they hired will help Boeing and its union reach agreement. It’s obviously a very significant and difficult dispute. But I do know that a skilled mediator will likely be able to move their negotiation process forward – and that’s helpful to both sides.
Published in Oct. 2008.