OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Poor Timing

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Sometimes negotiation or mediation does not work because it is not timed properly. Disputants will usually not agree to negotiation unless they think that they can do at least as well--or better-- in a negotiation process as they can by using another form of confrontation, usually some form of force. Before they are willing to negotiate, they will insist that this power contest be played out--or at least pursued long enough to foresee the end result--before they will be willing to sit down and negotiate.

In their well-known book, Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury describe this idea as "BATNA"--best alternative to a negotiated agreement. If one or more of the disputants has a BATNA that is substantially better than what they think they can get through negotiation, they are likely to refuse to negotiate, turning to their BATNA instead. Thus disputes are not ready or "ripe" for negotiation (as it is commonly called) until all the sides know and have tested their BATNAs. Only after they have tested their BATNAs, and concluded that they are inferior to negotiation, will parties be willing to negotiate an end to their struggle.

Relying on BATNAs can take many forms. Insurgent groups may refuse to negotiate with the regime they oppose because they think they can win more by continuing violent confrontation than they could in negotiation. The dispute will not become ripe for negotiation until one side or the other gives up, realizing that a negotiated settlement between opponents will likely yield a better result.

Similar problems can occur in public policy conflicts, intergroup conflicts, or even interpersonal conflicts. An environmental group, for instance, may refuse to negotiate about the construction of a new facility if they think they can block that construction in court. Ethnic groups may refuse to negotiate power sharing arrangements if they think they can do better through legal or political processes. The same thing happens in interpersonal conflicts. If people in conflict think they can win by using force to coerce the other person into complying with their wishes, they are likely to do that instead of negotiating. Only after force has failed, or after the results of force become clear, will the disputants be willing to consider negotiation.

 

Links to Examples of Timing Problems:

Jacob Bercovitch -- Understanding Mediation's Role in Preventive Diplomacy
Bercovitch examines 241 international conflicts occurring from 1945 to 1990. Mediation was attempted, often multiple times, in 60% of those conflicts. Bercovitch examines the factors that correlate with mediation success and failure.  One important factor he found was timing.
 
Clem McCarthy -- Conflict in Northern Ireland: Reconciling Form and Substance
McCarthy compares two mediation efforts in Northern Ireland.  The latter was more successful than the former, at least in part because of its better timing.

 

Links to Possible Treatments for Timing Problems:

Good Timing

 

Links to Related Problems:

Stalemate


Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu