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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

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POSTED AT 12:13 PM ET, 03/12/2011

Focus on the fans

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

As his top priority, George Cohen must provide constant reminders that what matters most to both the owners and the players is fan loyalty. Without the millions of tickets and jerseys sold or the billions of dollars that record television ratings rake in, the multi-billion dollar pie currently being sliced up among owners and players simply wouldn't exist. If a resolution isn't reached before the 2011-2012 season kicks off, that pie could shrink dramatically. Just ask the bean counters at Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League how fiscally damaging even a brief work stoppage can be.

Right now, the economic reality most fans are confronting is far bleaker than it was when professional baseball and hockey players last took to the picket lines. As such, fans could very well have far less patience for what most of them see as bickering between millionaires and billionaires. Even an institution as popular as the NFL isn't immune to backlash. George Cohen needs to ensure that all parties understand this fact and act accordingly.

One way Mr. Cohen could help both parties to weather even a prolonged lockout would be to suggest concessions on both sides that make being a football fan more affordable. These days, taking a family of four out to FedEx field for a game means paying for tickets, parking, concessions and more--and the investment is significant. Finding ways in the collective bargaining process to show that the fans really do come first--such as lowering ticket prices for certain stadium sections--would send a powerful message that the NFL isn't about greed; but rather providing quality entertainment for all.

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BY Robert Goodwin

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POSTED AT 4:56 PM ET, 03/ 9/2011

Offering middle ground

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

George Cohen, unfortunately, will not see or speak to the most recalcitrant partisans on either side, but only with their selected representatives. He has the ability to shuttle between the two sides when they are not in the same room and thus perhaps to reduce the impact of inflammatory rhetoric. He has the ability to discern the relative importance of the various items in dispute to each side and thus to learn where compromise is possible.

At some point, close to the the end, he may be able to suggest a middle ground that neither side is willing to make as an offer, but that both sides may be willing to accept simply because it comes from a perceived neutral, the rejection of which will create greater problems than would acceptance. A good mediator does not need the power to impose a settlement to affect one.

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BY Slade Gorton

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POSTED AT 4:50 PM ET, 03/ 9/2011

Cooler heads prevail

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

When George Cohen approaches the negotiating table, he may not have the power to force specific policies, but he can influence the parameters by which negotiations are conducted. In order to bring the two sides together, it is important that Cohen establish the appropriate proceedings. In doing so, Cohen is able to exert a level of influence that makes up for his lack of leverage.

Setting the negotiation table
When two sides begin negotiating, both want to walk away feeling victorious. In this case, both the players and the owners need to be able to leave the negotiations with a sense of success. In order to help accomplish this, Cohen must be a trustworthy confidant of both the players and the owners; both sides must feel that Cohen is a mediator working for their benefits. While Cohen should work to represent both sides' interests, he also needs to be conscientious about maintaining objectivity. As a mediator, his effectiveness largely depends on this impartiality.

Cohen also needs to set the ground rules for what the negotiations look like. The nature of these talks can be tense and, at times, combative. However, maintaining a sense of positivity can minimize this aversion. Thus, it is important to emphasize maintaining a positive regard for one another as a fundamental part of the process. Finally, Cohen needs to continue a closed-door policy throughout the negotiations. Limiting leaks to the media deters the sensationalism that often derails true progress.

Meeting in the middle
Cohen must help the players and owners establish realistic goals and objectives. One of the greatest challenges he faces is moderating the hard-liners on each side. In particular, Cohen must pursue intra-group negotiation prior to inter-group negotiation. He should approach both the NFL Players Association and the NFL owners and encourage each side to agree on the major issues within themselves. This will facilitate a pragmatic ordering of priorities for both sides while also providing an avenue for sensible discussion.

Addressing the uncompromising members from both sides in the preliminary stages will allow for more effective consensus-building later in the inter-group discussions. It is important for powerful emotions to be "checked at the door" to ensure clear-headed and rational talks.

An effective means of promoting this behavior would be to appoint a small number of representatives for both parties. These individuals would fulfill three important criteria: a desire to reach consensus, an ability to temper unreasonable expectations and a well-respected reputation by both parties. The prioritized goals then can be put forth and assessed in a constructive environment.

Vehicle for resolution
Finally, Cohen must try to align opposing goals and develop opportunity for consensus. It is important for him to emphasize a common purpose and clearly outline the steps that both sides need to take in order to achieve a positive result. This requires building a purpose that is outside of selfish objectives; it is understanding the larger impact that the failure to compromise will have.

Cohen should advise both sides to put emotions and vitriol aside in order to ensure that cooler heads prevail. He should encourage all to understand the sentiment amongst fans and other staff, recognizing that this issue extends far beyond the players and owners. Lastly, he must get the parties to come to terms with the consequences of failing to come to some sort of resolution.

While Cohen may not be the architect of the actual solution, he can play an important role in having the owners and players come to an agreement. He must establish an efficient framework by which the negotiations can proceed. By establishing these parameters, he can wield informal influence as someone who controls the flow of information despite his lack of leverage. But in order to move towards an actual solution, Cohen likely will have to force the two sides to align their goals with respect to a common purpose. If Cohen can do this, he will have played an instrumental role in preserving the NFL's 2011 season.

Authors: Mark Brundage, Jon Endean, Meghan Erkel, Colleen Fugate, Victor Hogen, Matt Wasserman

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BY Rice University Undergraduate Leaders

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POSTED AT 12:00 PM ET, 03/ 9/2011

Helping both sides manage loss

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

What is holding back resolution in the NFL dispute is not the argument about the benefits to each side of various options. Everyone involved knows all the arguments. They can make them compellingly for either side. The resistance to a new NFL contract comes from the threat or reality of loss.

Leadership is about the distribution and management of loss. That is Cohen's challenge. The losses may be concrete, such as money or power. Or they may be simply a function of clarifying priorities, which means that some "priorities" will be sacrificed in favor of what is most important.

Both the owners' and the players' negotiating teams have constituencies, including some militant elements, which will have to be reckoned with if they give up too much of what they are hoping for. Each of these teams includes folks who could get fired if they are seen to have 'compromised'.

There is no win-win here.

Cohen must identify the inevitable, or at least likely, losses on each side if an agreement is to be reached, and then work with each negotiating team to see what they can do to mitigate or compensate for the other side's losses. Each loss, whether material or in the form of an abandoned priority, will differentially affect factions in each side's constituency. Figuring out which subgroups will be taking the biggest hit and what can be done to ameliorate the loss and/or help them though it is the mediator's work if an agreement is to be reached.

Cohen must use his considerable skills to assist each side in addressing their own leadership work, helping them figure out how to disappoint their own people at a rate they can absorb.

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BY Marty Linsky

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POSTED AT 11:52 AM ET, 03/ 9/2011

Separating egos from the issue

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

Negotiations are often highly emotional, making it difficult for the negotiating parties to remain focused on the real issue at hand. A mediator must listen without bias to each position, separate people and egos from the issue, and lead all parties in a meaningful discussion. It is helpful for a mediator to craft a list of interests and needs from each party, then ask them to critique it. Then the mediator critiques this refined list of interests and needs. This refining process continues until neither party can improve the list. At the end of this process, interested parties have only one decision to make: yes or no. - Cadet Carissa Hauck


A mediator must bring to light the common interests of each party, and then
lead them in the creation of options that satisfy vital interests. As a member of the West Point Negotiations Project, I follow this current headline with great interest. In tough and emotional negotiations, a mediator must initially work hard to find mutual interests. Asking the right questions takes transparency and courage, and all parties must agree to place the success of the relationship at risk above fear of rejection or failure.

A good technique for discovering deeply guarded interests, not just positions, is to seek to understand before seeking to be understood. A tangible way to do this is to verbally acknowledge the other party's position before stating your own. Doing this builds trust. I believe a mediator's leadership is far more important than their technique. It takes leadership to bring two opposing parties into agreement. If a mediator is a good communicator who is dedicated to principles, not just arbitrary terms of success, I believe they will succeed. - Cadet Christina Tamayo

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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BY West Point Cadets

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POSTED AT 8:18 PM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Mediating between players and owners

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

Sometimes a mediator can get the two sides to moderate their demands by focusing on the need to gain and retain customers. Sometimes a mediator can damp down angry feelings by getting each side to understand the other's thinking. For example, unions are often defending the fruits of past struggles, while management is worrying about future competition. But in the case of the NFL, neither party seems to be thinking about the fans and each seems aware of the other's thinking, which is all about getting a bigger piece of the pie.

In this situation, a mediator has to be sensitive to emotions, keeping them from boiling over, making sure the parties understand each other and reinforcing ideas that could lead to compromise. Sometimes the mediator will explore possible solutions privately with individual actors or groups of owners or player representatives. And this mediator should make sure that owners and players keep in mind that if they fail to agree, they both will suffer painful consequences.

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BY Michael Maccoby

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POSTED AT 8:06 PM ET, 03/ 8/2011

The negotiation process

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

The most important thing a great negotiator must do is establish a process that will determine how the parties can develop relationships, ensure constructive communication, manage conflict and increase trust. In our work we call this the first phase of negotiation development, and the output must be a procedural agreement. When the parties in a negotiation have a history of adversarial relationships and mistrust, a procedural agreement offers a flexible yet powerful framework for codifying expectations and laying a foundation for resolving conflicts and reaching agreement. Such issues as how the parties will communicate with each other, what will be confidential and what can be shared with the public, where the parties will sit, how long the talks will take and so forth are part of this discussion. If all have input in crafting the procedural agreement, the negotiation will be off to a solid start.

After the procedural agreement is ratified, the next step is to help the parties avoid positional bargaining--a widely accepted practice that only generates more conflict and perpetuates a win/lose power struggle. Instead of this traditional method, the negotiator is able to facilitate the parties in stating their real interests; i.e., to state what is beneath the hard-line positions and to articulate what is important to them and why. For example, if the position of the players is that they only want to play 15 games and the owners want the players to play 20 games, the negotiator's role is to help each side make explicit the underlying reasons for their positions and to be clear about those of the other side.

This is best done by asking the "Why?" questions every time a position is stated until it is clear what the underlying interests are. Perhaps the reason why players want a limit on the games played is because they are concerned about the physical damage that can be done to their bodies if the season is extended. The players' health and safety affects their ability to play and their capacity to make any money, and certainly could be an interest of the owners. Interest-based negotiation enables the parties to hear what really matters to each; and once the group can identify those areas of interest that overlap, then they can potentially find common ground.

The next step in the negotiation process is to review the common interests and engage the parties in generating more options for how to meet them. If the concern about players' physical health and safety is a shared interest, there may be options that both could find very helpful and there may be some reasonable choices that neither party ever thought of. Generating as many options as possible frees the group to engage in creative and innovative thinking and helps them avoid getting stuck in the "I am right, you are wrong" cycle of negotiation that rarely leads to resolution and only causes more hostility and resistance.

Once the options have been identified, the negotiator asks the parties to evaluate which ones best meet the interests of both parties and how. At this point it is wise to remind the parties that they are only committing to one issue and what will ultimately be a part of the final agreement. Until all the issues hindering agreement have been discussed and vetted using this process, there can be no binding agreement. This will have been spelled out in a procedural agreement. Often the parties in a complex and emotionally laden negotiation get confused and forget to separate discussion from decision-making.

Once all of the issues have been discussed, the group can proceed to writing a contract. To expedite this process, we suggest the One Text approach in which the negotiator takes everything he has heard from both parties and drafts an agreement. He or she will then distribute the One Text, and each party will be asked to critique it using a set of questions that can quickly identify where there is agreement and where there remains dissent. The draft agreement is given back to the negotiator to incorporate the feedback received. This process may take a lot of time to get to agreement (the Begin and Sadat negotiations used this process and they took 13 days and 23 drafts before coming to agreement). If the negotiation is done well, the agreement will be fair and no one will feel taken; it will serve the key interests of both parties well; and it will be better than either party's walk-away position.

The process of effective negotiation takes time and considerable skill. The smart negotiator knows when to return to the procedural agreement and when to attend to relationship, communication and trust. Whenever there is a breakdown in negotiations, these are almost always the reasons why.

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BY Katherine Tyler Scott

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POSTED AT 2:59 PM ET, 03/ 8/2011

How a mediator should look

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

I'm not sure what Cohen should do, but I am sure how he--or any mediator--should look.

Mediators should be extremely conscious of the equity of their nonverbal communication--using equal eye contact with each side, showing the same body-language signals to both sides, and avoiding nodding or head shaking when others are talking.

In American society, eye contact is important for persuasion and communication. The rule of thumb is to look at the person who is speaking until they have finished, then look away. This creates the sense that you are interested in their message. Looking away prematurely is usually perceived as not listening.

When a conflict gets heated or intense, a calm tone, relaxed body position and downward hand gestures can help to diffuse a tense situation. And remember to take a deep breath. Breathing can become restricted when you get caught up in a conflict.

Sometimes, when members of a group are split, there will be two distinct sets of body postures in the same group. If half of a group is disputing the other half, the members of each sub-group will tend to match up their body postures and movements that are distinct from the other sub-group. (Sometimes it is even possible to predict when one member is changing sides because his body will start to blend with the postures of the opposing team.) A mediator, trying to display neutrality, can take up an intermediate body posture--folding her arms like one side and crossing her legs like the other.

Mediators should monitor their own body responses for evidence of biases. We are all biased. The trick is not to let biases interfere--or show. Notice if your breathing has become restricted, if your muscles are tense or twitching, if you are feeling irritable or if your heart rate has increased. These are internal cues that all parties may be best served by taking a break!

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BY Carol Kinsey Goman

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POSTED AT 2:53 PM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Reason, incentives and coercion

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

The tools open to any negotiator boil down to RIC: reason, incentives and coercion.

This I learned the hard way--very hard!--as director of President Reagan's arms control agency negotiating nuclear weapons cuts with the Soviets in the 1980s.

Over all those many years, and thousands (more?) of hours at the negotiating table, we came to realize the limited tools at hand.

Coercion, raw power, wasn't in our toolbox. Even reformer Mikhail Gorbachev had his proverbial "finger on the button." He could do us as much harm to us as we could do to him. So force was out, much as it is to George Cohen (admittedly, in a very different setting!).

Now go to reason. We could argue--as we did during our all-night session (8:00 pm to 6:20 am) at the Reyjavik Summit in October 1986--that we each had more than we could ever use, or need. In our case, it was nuclear weaponry. In Cohen's case, it is money available to players and team owners.

Two problems with this approach, though. First, few negotiating positions yield to reason. The Soviets weren't big on logic. Had they been, they wouldn't have been Soviets (living under such an irrational system). Second, "needs" and "use" are infinitely elastic. No NFL player would think he does not "need" more money, or could "use" no more. Ditto for Soviet war-planner with nukes.

So we're left with incentives. These can change over time, and be potent though abstract. Gorbachev envisioned a different future than Brezhnev or Andropov.

Plus, incentives go beyond specifics. The fans' faith in players, respect for the game, loyalty, admiration--all far more abstract than money splits, and yet somehow more powerful.

Here, George Cohen has a powerful tool--namely respectability, deserving of admiration--just as Ronald Reagan had when proclaiming that the new USSR, willing to sign the accord to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons (intermediate-range), ended its era as "the evil empire."

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BY Ken Adelman

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POSTED AT 10:20 AM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Show some care for the average fan

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

Mr. Cohen should point out the cost to all parties of not making a deal. Fans (rightly or wrongly) are sick of what they perceive to be greedy millionaire owners battling with greedy millionaire players--for a few extra bucks. If an agreement is not reached, and the season is shortened or even canceled, the fans are the victims. While fans have put up with this in the past, there is always a chance they will get sick of the perceived greed on both sides of this equation.

For many Americans, we are still in a recession. Lots of people are unemployed or under-employed. The difference in net worth between owners, players and the average person in this country is greater than it has ever been. It might be smart to show a little sensitivity to the average fan.

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BY Marshall Goldsmith

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POSTED AT 10:14 AM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Getting real about what's at stake

Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?

Mediation is a skill that requires patience, fortitude and wisdom. But when it comes to mediating between NFL owners and NFL players, I would add something even more important--an ability to act serious when all you want to do is laugh out loud.

Consider for a moment.

We have 32 ownership groups and fewer than 2,000 active roster players. None of whom can agree on how to divide $9 billion in television revenues. Get real. Forget the fact that such a sum could be put to better use--or any use--other than keeping billionaires and millionaires happy.

Nowhere on the planet is so much energy being expended when so little is at stake. True, $9 billion is a great sum of money, but the reality is that owners have already staked their claim to the first billion and now are simply negotiating over how to split the remaining $8 billion.

Right now the players want to maintain the 60/40 split: $4.8 billion for players, $3.2 billion for owners. A 50/50 split guarantees $4 billion for each. This means that both parties are fighting over a difference of $800 million, not the full $9 billion.

Yes, there are peripheral issues like a rookie salary cap and a proposed 18 game schedule. Likely the first will pass (players don't want unproven players making more than they do), and the second will die (fans want quality competition not more games).

Therefore the negotiation process is little more than public theater--albeit behind closed doors. Cynics might call it a charade; skeptics might call it "manufactured" publicity to keep the game in the public eye.

The challenge for George Cohen as mediator is to apply his well-honed skills as a negotiator to instill a common sense on the proceedings.

After all if a mediator cannot feign patience with owners who live for the spotlight, fortitude with players who act as if a million-dollar salary is a minimum wage, and wisdom for both parties who seem clueless, then what hope is there for a settlement?

Cohen will need all the resolve he can muster to help both parties understand that negotiating revenue split is easy compared to what might come next.

The most serious issue facing the NFL has nothing to do with money; it is player health. As medical evidence mounts about the destructive nature that a game rooted in collision wreaks on the brain mounts, owners, managers, coaches and players need to focus on ways to protect players.

Otherwise future rounds of collective bargaining will not require mediation because television executives will not want to pay licensing fees to a sport that no one wants to watch.

And that's no laughing matter.

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BY John Baldoni

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