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West Point Cadets
West Point cadets and instructors

West Point Cadets

A group of 13 cadets and four instructors from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point take on the weekly 'On Leadership' questions. Who better to explore the gray areas of leadership than members of The Long Gray Line?

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

 |  March 9, 2011; 11:52 AM ET
Category:  Sports Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Mediating between players and owners | Next: Helping both sides manage loss


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To be a mediator is to put oneself in a very gray area. A mediator's role is to act as a communicator between parties, and to lead these parties to some sort of compromise regarding the issue at hand. However, it is nearly impossible for mediators to keep their own opinions and ideas from flowing into discussion and into their comments. George Cohen, while an extremely experienced mediator, needs to be careful how he states every sentence, so that he does not come off giving his own opinions and persuading the parties away from their interests. While we hope he can bring them to compromise, they also need to keep their own interests in mind, and being blindly persuaded by a mediator, a communicator, is a step away from a true compromise and a step towards later unhappiness.

Posted by: kelseypedersen | March 11, 2011 2:45 PM
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Being the mediator to any argument is a tough position. Cohen must be able to reason with both parties and get them to step into the opposing party's shoes for the purpose of compromise. Both parties must come away feeling that their opinions were fairly represented. Being that money is such an important part of the argument between players and owners, it is important that both players and owners receive the right amount of money. Cohen must help them make the decision that keeps everyone happy including the fans that support the sport itself. While negotiations can become highly emotional, it is Cohen's job to keep emotions at a minimum and sift through logical ideas and reasoning to effectively come to a fair decision for both parties.

Posted by: NajiMcFarlane | March 10, 2011 10:46 PM
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Interested parties, unfortunately, cannot say yes or no. Each package comes with gray lines, to say, lighter and darker shades of gray. An 18 game season with 2 less preseason games can be changed to 19 games and 3 less preseason games. A lockout can be shortened to a half-season year. The problem therein lies not with saying yes or no, but with the moderator saying, this shade of gray is the new yes.
The problem of writing out the interests and needs is that no one will ever come outright and say what they are deeply interested in: security, and money. They can only talk about the avarice in terms of their collective agreement to be paid fairly and to run the business smoothly. The mediator's job must be to, at least in private, communicate the actual needs, and bring the truth to the table.

Posted by: alexyoung | March 10, 2011 12:55 PM
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While strategic negotiation is necessary in order to achieve a resolution that benefit both parties, it might be too difficult to rely on logic only to make this deal successful. Both the owners and the NFL players have a lot of money at stake, and are obviously not going to give up without a fight. This means that while Cohen is experienced, he cannot just use logic and reasoning skills to persuade each side to compromise. Is a football player going to sit down with Cohen and be persuaded to come to a 50-50 conclusion when he's been at 60-40 this whole time? Will an owner, the most important leadership position of an NFL team (even though a coach may actually be more valued by the players), sit down and be persuaded to compromise? In my opinion, Cohen must exhaust one party enough for them to essentially be persuaded- with this much at stake, no one is giving up fast.

Posted by: lizpyoung | March 9, 2011 7:59 PM
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