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Deborah Kolb

Deborah Kolb

Deborah M. Kolb is Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Professor for Women and Leadership at the Simmons School of Management and author, most recently, of Her Place at the Table: A Woman's Guide to Negotiating the Five Challenges to Leadership Success.

How Cohen can influence the 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?

While it is true that a mediator like George Cohen lacks formal authority to compel agreement, he has considerable influence over the process that unfolds. First, he will likely be able, based on his experience and reputation, to establish good working relationships with the key players representing the owners and the players. They are most likely to be the source of ideas for settlement.

Second, based on the meetings he will have, likely in private caucus, he may be able to explore the contours of a settlement--what it might look like, and start to develop an evolving framework for a settlement. Third, although this looks like a negotiation between two parties, within each constituency there will be those who are more supportive and those who are more likely to block. As ideas for resolution start to form, he can work with supporters to help change the minds of those who are more uncompromising.

Finally, he can invoke the 'compared to what' question. Failure to come to agreement will likely be extremely costly for both sides--my guess is he will remind them of that frequently and will codify, if he can, more specifically how those costs will affect different groups. But we shouldn't expect much to happen until a deadline approaches.

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By Deborah Kolb

 |  March 8, 2011; 10:10 AM ET
Category:  Sports Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Deal or no deal? | Next: Getting real about what's at stake


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Cohen should urge that both sides be open and honest in the negotiations. Neither side can come to an agreement if side B is not allowed to see exactly why side A is upset. In this case, the owners of the NFL claim that costs of maintaining the business outgrow the revenue growth and pay cuts must be made accordingly. Yet they refuse to show the data to support this claim-- a claim which is at the heart of the entire dispute. To be fair, the NFL is foremost a business, and it is understandable that they would not want to fork over their most important financial information to the players' unions. Yes, they are under no legal obligation to do so. But withholding the information may create more harm than good-- it may even hurt their own PR, since claims that the NFL is hurting financially are hard to believe, especially when major media sources like Time report that "public indicators of the game's overall health are overwhelmingly positive."
Cohen should stress that the NFL lay all their cards out on the negotiating table in order to legitimize their claim and allow the union to properly assess the situation. Having a greater perspective on the dispute allows for cleaner negotiations and a greater willingness to achieve a common goal.

quote: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2043784,00.html

Posted by: kaylaopall | March 11, 2011 12:33 PM
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Negotiators must link two or more sides and mediate the proposals to find a common solution. Either way, negotiators are placed in a touch position and George Cohen is no exception, having to administer the dealing of both the NFL owners and professional football players, especially when his decisions are out in the public eye, analyzed by thousands of people. Both sides cannot be completely satisfied and they must realize sacrifices need to be made in order to efficiently reach an agreement. George Cohen needs to be frank with the consequences of specific decisions when collaborating possibilities so that both parties understand fully the reasoning behind each decision while maintaining a relationship of trust and respect. Negotiators also need to be entirely informed of the needs of each participant and their reasoning behind their proposals so that they can comprehend the importance of each negotiation. In this day and age, all people want is more-more money, more privileges and more power. George Cohen must get past this selfishness and greed to reach a rational conclusion. But as a leader, he must hold his ground with each decision and reasonably choreograph the process in a respectful manner because each party will sternly fight for their way.

Posted by: sallyannzhou | March 11, 2011 12:05 PM
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I found Deborah Kolb’s statement, “Failure to come to agreement will likely be extremely costly for both sides--my guess is he will remind them of that frequently and will codify, if he can, more specifically how those costs will affect different groups,” particularly insightful. As a mediator, George Cohen was brought in with the specific purpose of trying to avoid taking the issues between the NFL owners and the players to court. Both parties wish to find some sort of resolution outside of the court system and the possible bitterness it might cause, but some members of each party may be more or less willing to reach a compromise. Because of this, I agree with Kolb that George Cohen will need to pull in key members of each delegation who are willing to reach some sort of compromise and then help convince others. As George Cohen will need to remain impartial and has no negotiating power, he will have to tread carefully in order to grant both parties the same neutrality. Still, even with the possible pitfalls of uncompromising individuals and non-neutrality, George Cohen’s record as a mediator speaks for itself and based on these previous experiences I believe he will be able to guide both parties to an agreement even if it isn’t until the deadline approaches like Kolb would suggest.

Posted by: katskilton | March 11, 2011 11:39 AM
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George Cohen's experience in mediating and negotiating will aid in this feud between NFL owners and professional football teams. What Cohen's efforts should mainly focus on are areas of common interests. Much like the negotiations between right wing and left wing members of Congress, it is often the most left or right oriented that show the littlest signs of negotiation.

A solution to the extremist views is to generate conversation concerning options for how to address common interests. For example, perhaps physical wear, mental health, and emotional stress of players are important concerns. This could be identified as an area of shared interests, and thus conversation about options that would benefit both players and profitability of NFL owners might commence.

Additionally, of utmost importance, and where Cohen's mediating efforts must take the forefront lie in the expansion and formulations of these options. If the feud is looked at issue by issue, and if it is pieced together in this manner, a final agreement is more likely to please both sides. Just like in a divorce settlement, the fruits of the marriage are often divided item by item, negotiating this for that. Truly effective and influential mediators can market the final agreement in a way that makes both parties feel as if they can walk away from the table with their heads high, instead of feeling as if one party was cheated.

Posted by: sherrylin | March 11, 2011 1:01 AM
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