‘The Art of the Possible – How to transform a conflict into an opportunity to deal with our differences constructively through co-operation.’

‘Possible is the new yes’, is the idea at the heart of William Ury’s most recent book – ‘Possible – How We Survive (and Thrive) in an Age of Conflict’ (2024). William Ury is the co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation. He is one of the world’s most influential living experts on negotiation and collaboration. When I used to work as a contract negotiator in-house for Rolls-Royce & Alstom (in Paris), I carried with me to major project negotiations in India, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, and China, a hard-back Notebook, in which I had written down key ideas discussed in ‘Getting to Yes’ (which was co-written by the late Professor Roger Fisher & William Ury).  

I had the honour of meeting Professor Fisher during a short academic visit to Harvard in April 2002 (see the ‘International Cultural Heritage Law & Dispute Settlement’ page at www.carlislam.co.uk).

During what became a conversation which lasted over two hours, I mentioned that since my first multi-million pound power project contract negotiation in Kuala Lumpur – when I was just 27, I had applied the techniques set out in ‘Getting to Yes’ with great success, and had also developed a few insights into the dynmaics at play in ‘high-stakes’ negotiations. I learned, that to be trusted and taken at your word, i.e. believed, you never bluff. This means that your superiors must be ready to do what you are saying. In his new book, William Ury writes:

‘When Roger Fisher, Bruce Patton, and I worked on Getting to Yes more than 30 years ago, “yes” meant a mutually satisfactory agreement. Today, I believe that the meaning of yes must be expanded. The new yes means to lean in and embrace conflicts for all they have to offer. The new yes is a transformative yes. If we can embrace and transform our conflicts, we can learn how to live and work together. And if we can do that … there is no problem, large or small, that we cannot address.’  

Over the next four weeks I am carrying out research for a new article I am writing for publication entitled – ‘Mediation Advocacy in Trust & Estate Disputes.’ Mediation advocacy is negotiation conducted by a legal representative, that is facilitated by a mediator. I am going to write this through the lens of ‘Transformative mediation’ = ‘Transformative negotiation’, i.e. that there is a dynamic synergy between the two. The challenge I must think about as a ‘Mediator’ (‘M’) & ‘Negotiator’ (‘N’), and the thought experiment I will have to invent, to test the answer, is how can M and N help each other to transform a dispute into a problem-solving opportunity. This requires analysis of potential road-blocks, & of how N can help M, to engage N’s opponent, in a constructive problem-solving conversation with N, through M.

I would welcome any comments you can contribute, about your own experience of negotiating disputes in mediation.