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Law Rules

How we resolve our disputes

Entries in sports (3)

Friday
Apr062012

Opening day

I admit it. I’m a homer. I like my hometown professional baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Today is the opening game of the 2012 season. After a first place finish in our division last year, hopes are high for another exciting and successful season. But even if they don’t win it all (and the Brewers never have), it is still good clean entertainment, usually outdoors.

What does this have to do with dispute resolution? I have written about conflict in sports before, (at least twice). It can be a good model for how we should handle conflict in the workplace and society in general. During the off season, we saw the controversy about Ryan Braun’s positive blood test for steroids. It was finally resolved through arbitration. Agree with the decision or not, it has the benefits of finality and closure. And it showed the importance of having some kind of relatively quick decision making procedure to resolve the dispute.

Conflict can be constructive. Even if we don’t get everything we want or hope for, engaging in a civilized discussion or game with your opponent ultimately puts the dispute behind you and lets you get on with your life. If we don’t win today’s game, there are 161 more to go. And then there is next season. In the meantime, enjoy the game and the opportunity for growth that civilized conflict provides. Baseball is one of the most civilized sports. No slap shots, slam dunks, sacks or kicks. Just some base hits and the opportunity to make it “home.” So enjoy the game and play ball!

Thursday
Mar312011

Play Ball!

This is not about Major League Baseball, even though today is opening day of the 2011 season. However, baseball has been used as a metaphor for, or backdrop to, life in general for most of the last century, at least in U.S. literature and theater. From For Love of the Game to Field of Dreams, from The Chosen to the The Natural, baseball in novels and the movies is part of our national and cultural folklore. Baseball’s lessons and language also permeate mediation and dispute resolution.

The other day, I was engaged in some business negotiations. After presenting our initial proposal, the other party’s attorney said it was not even “in the ballpark” and advised his client to forget about making any deal with us. In effect, he wanted to pick up his ball and look for another game after the first pitch. Recognizing this as a time-worn negotiating tactic, I reminded them that we were only in the first inning and there was plenty of time for both sides to take their turn at the plate. In other words, we wanted to play ball with them. If they would have accepted our initial proposal, we would have been very happy but that was not our entire game plan. After the exchange of a few more proposals, it became apparent what was important to each side and an agreement was reached. All it required was for each side to demonstrate a love of the game and be prepared to “go the distance.”

Very often in mediation and negotiation, we see parties take positions that are seemingly irreconcilable at the outset. If the parties come in with positions that are truly their bottom lines, no agreement or settlement will be possible. Therefore, I recommend that the parties do their research ahead of time, come in with their best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) but be aware of the worst that could happen. And then play ball. After all, it is our national pasttime.

Monday
Jan112010

A lesson from the locker room

I have to admit that I am in mourning. No, my family and friends are fine, thank you. I’m mourning the Green Bay Packers’ overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals yesterday. I’ve been a Packer fan since Vince Lombardi brought 7 titles to Titletown in 9 years. But it was equally thrilling to see them come so close to making a nearly miraculous comeback yesterday. Midway through the season, no one gave the Packers much of a chance at reaching the playoffs this year. But their 7-1 record in the second half of the season lead to yesterday’s shootout in the desert. And what lead to that second half record is what the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel called “Rant ‘n’ Roll.” After a humiliating loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Packers did a little soul-searching, and then a little finger-pointing. In other words, conflict. As some of the players put it, “no one walked out of that [locker room] meeting arm in arm like brothers.” But when they returned after a day off, quarterback Aaron Rodgers noted that something had changed. He felt something special was going to happen. And it did. The Packers were never humiliated again. Even yesterday, after being down by 3 touchdowns halfway through the 3rd quarter, they didn’t doubt themselves and managed to tie the game in regulation, sending it into overtime. Their locker room conflict and ranting had made them stronger. It doesn’t always happen that way. But a little ranting and conflict can be managed to produce something positive, if the parties are willing to listen and try to understand each other. Apparently, that is what the Packers did. I think that is a lesson that lawyers, business people, politicians, and diplomats would do well to study.