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Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

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

 |  March 8, 2011; 8:18 PM ET
Category:  Sports Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The negotiation process | Next: Separating egos from the issue


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I agree wholeheartedly that emotions play a large factor in these negotiations, as to me the whole situation seems like a power struggle between the players and owners. The players want more money, but the owners do not want to give it to them and risk loosing the power over the players that they have for so long enjoyed, and which has been slipping through their fingers ever since the NFLPA came into being. The owners, in my opinion, are taking a stand here and saying enough is enough in a last ditch bid to keep power, lockout or no lockout. They know that if there is a lockout the players will be affected more than they would, as the owners have alternative sources of income that most NFL players do not. I believe that the owners have the power in this negotiation--as they control the money that is being fought over--and that it is going to take nothing short of a miracle to get them to compromise with the players. The stakes are too high, and the emotions are too intense for that to happen.

Posted by: DavidBenavides | March 11, 2011 4:19 PM
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In heated arguments, where emotions run high, there is only one hope of both sides reaching an agreement: the mediator must judge fabricated stories as fantasy and make the true state of things known. This is no small task in a situation where both sides have thought hours and hours about the labor dispute. Mr. Maccoby is absolutely right that the mediator must keep the lid on emotions. A mind can do funny things--like letting emotions reshape the way a man remembers an event happening--when emotions get the best of him. The capable mediator will gain the trust of the disillusioned if he focuses on the facts and corrects those tall tales tainted by emotion.

Posted by: calebbrown | March 11, 2011 9:53 AM
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