Respecting Others’ Positions

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Category: Mediation, Negotiation
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Professor Calboli made an interesting point in her comment to one of my previous posts, where she used the phrase “respecting others’ positions.” This gave me an idea for another post. What does it mean to respect others’ positions? Values-based disputes are often very hard to negotiate and accordingly, mediators are introduced to help bridge the gap. A problem I have witnessed, at least in my work, is that mediation is overly used and valued. Consensus is sought for consensus’ sake and mediation is implemented without any regard to negotiative theory. There are times when people will not, and based on their values, should not agree. If one’s best alternative is preferable to what is offered at the table, one should walk away from the table. If one’s bottom-line cannot or will not be met, it is both self-deceptive and disrespectful to continue to push for “consensus.” Having twenty conversations in order to change the plan of care to something more in-line with what you want is not truly consensus—in some ways, it’s possibly coercive.

This does not mean people should shut down and stop working toward their goals; it merely means that people should seek to achieve their goals away from the table.If parties’ positions are in direct conflict, it is respectful to acknowledge them as valid and worthy positions to have (rather than assume that they have less value and should change). At that point in time, transparency in process is more important: “Ok. We disagree. We are now going to do X (such as, seek guardianship over your child in order to provide treatment you are refusing). Here are available resources for you to contact in order to respond (lawyers sensitive to area, advocacy groups, etc).”

Respect goes both ways and does not equate to complete acquiescence.  Disagreement can occur without losing compassion.

Thank you, Prof. Calboli, your comment was excellent.

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2 Responses to “Respecting Others’ Positions”

  1. Irene Calboli Says:

    Thank you so much for a wonderful and really thoughtful post. I totally agree that, as you said, mediation should not necessarily lead to agreement. But, as you said, it should always be based on respect. Sometime we may agree, and work towards agreeing (in particular when something truly important is at stake, like marriages, children, etc.), but at times, as you said, we should walk away from the negotiating table. Still, you and I agree that the world is made by so many different people with so many different ideas and ideologies that it is crucial to respect others’ positions, and to work toward agreements or just peaceful coexistence based upon the basic value of respect. Sometime this is not difficult, but other times is very difficult depending on the topic. The key is, I think, not just pure respect, but also the acceptance that no one of us can really be sure to “hold the truth.” And the key to this is education. The more we study, the more we learn that pure truth does not really exist, not even in the most objective of disciplines like mathematic. There is always a margin for error in any theory, and the truly smart people are those who never accept settled theories but challenge them. As the daughter of two academics (of whom I am extremly proud), and the member of an enlarged family where education is more important than food or anything else, I grew up with this belief: “you may be correct, but others may be correct as well, and no matter what the topic is, you need always to understand why others think they way they do, and what motivates their convinctions.” If poeple do this, they may not change their mind (nor should they), but they will certainly better understand why others think differently, and accordingly better respect different positions. In many of my classes I perform a very interesting exercise: I make student argue the opposite side from what their “values” are (e.g., the “pro developed countries” need to represent developing countries and the “pro developing countries” need to represent developed countries). IP and IBT are not that “emotional,” and the exercise works quite well (but we talk about immigration, and that is a tough topic!). Only when we argue (and need to very well educate ourselves on the topic we argue for) in favor of the opposite side can see things differently. The key to successful respect is to be educated about why people think the way they do, and not to judge others because of their beliefs. When we do this effectively (i.e., all parties do this not just one party does it), we usually converge and agreements are easier to reach, and society simply functions better. Dialogue and education make us be better people. As Dante made Ulysses say in the Inferno to his followers before crossing the pillars of Gibraltar and venturing into the unknown, we are “not made to live as beasts but to pursue, to follow virtue and knowledge.” Knowledge is the real power, the key to respect. This should then make us wonder why so many powerful rulers in the world would rather prefer that their poeple have not so much of it. And as Socrates would say, the real knowledge is to acknowledge that we may not know. But we human beings all have one goal in common: happiness, or the pursuit of happiness. As you said in your previous post, it is when we see our lives at stake that we necessarily tend to be more compassionate and emphatic with others. Education is the basis for respect, and pure understanding that, no matter what the topic is, we may not necessarily be right … and also that to change one’s mid is really a sign of being strong rather than weak … Once again thank you for a wonderful post!

  2. The only response I have to that is to say that I so totally regret having never taken one of your classes :)

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