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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

"Yesable" Propositions

By Paul Wehr

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The paramount interest of any conflict party is to have their opponent do what they ask. One way the former can know more precisely what they are asking of the latter is by creating "yesable propositions" for them (Fisher 1970). First, what do we want of them, then how can we make it easier for them to agree?

One can begin, for example, with a simple chart of the likely positive and negative consequences for your opponent of doing and not doing what you ask. Then, you would imagine ways you could increase the pluses in the "do" column and reduce those in the "don't" column. Getting opponents to change their mind may simply involve asking them for a different decision than what they are now unwilling or unable to make.

Often simply changing the time frame may make the desired decision possible for them. The shift from "immediately" to "at some undetermined future time" appeared sufficient to permit the Unionists in Northern Ireland to say "yes" to the Belfast Accord of 1998.

One can also increase the "yesability" of a proposition by improving what will happen to the opponent if they agree. What are some improvements of higher value to them and lower cost to us that we could promise? We could also make our request of them as legitimate as possible. We could root it in universal standards of justice, fairness, reason and so on. That would increase their "looking good" if they agree. So, our primary interest of getting them to agree should reflect our other interests that we have already clarified. All contending parties in a conflict have a preferred outcome or future. Too often, though, the fog of contention obscures those futures and why we want them. By mapping or assessing the values of the opposing sides that underlie a conflict, we can better devise ways for resolving it cooperatively.

Values mapping (Wehr & Rohrbaugh 1978) involves the parties in imaging a future that reflects important value preferences they have. Those preferences, such as justice, beauty, a decent living level begin to appear and preferences of opponents in a particular conflict overlap. The process often reveals much common ground for opponents, compatibility of values and interests not before visible to them. Once revealed, values clarify interests which in turn permits opposing sides to craft yesable propositions to one another.

Fisher applied the yesable proposition technique as a consultant to the Carter Administration in the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David negotiation. A key provision in the final accord was the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula, something to which both sides had sworn they would not agree. The parties were helped to recast proposals into yesable form, permitting them to abandon iron-clad "non-negotiable positions."

Supporting Literature: Roger Fisher, International Conflict for Beginners , New York: Harper and Row, 1970

Links to Related Approaches

Principled Negotiation

Integrative (Or Win-win) Reframing

Links to Related Problems

Limits to Agreement: Better Alternatives

Refusal to Negotiate

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