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Dispute Resolution: Anticipate and Embrace Change


The satiric phrase was coined by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose."

Change is inevitable. It is estimated that one-third of folks embrace change; one-third reject change; and one-third are hesitant and ask WIIFM (What is in it for me?). This is the reason that negotiators and problem solvers must be flexible and agile. They can plan but so much is unpredictable.

Although change is ever happening, there are some things that endure especially predicting human behavior.

So, anticipate and embrace the change while recognizing the stability becomes the key for effective negotiators.

Yes, this was written by Dr. Spencer Johnson in 1998 - 23 years ago - and yet, the theme is just as relevant today. This is a quick read and worth the time.

So, this an allegorical parable that features four mice: Sniff, Scurry, Him, and Haw. (Him and Haw symbolize indecisiveness.) They are all after cheese. Cheese symbolizes happiness, security, wealth, and prestige.

Initially, the cheese is plentiful. Then the cheese begins dwindling daily.

Sniff and Scurry notice the dwindling and, without overthinking, they begin to explore other routes to other cheese.

Him and Haw assume that the cheese will always be there and do not notice the change.

Eventually the cheese is gone. Sniff and Scurry are okay because they have found other cheese sources. Him and Haw are in a quandary. After much anger, disappointment, worry, and indecisiveness, they eventually also find other cheese sources.

What are the lessons?

Change Happens: They keep moving the cheese.

Anticipate Change: Get ready for the cheese to move.

Monitor Change: Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.

Adapt To Change Quickly: The quicker you get go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.

Change: Move with the cheese.

Enjoy Change: Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese!

Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again: They keep moving the cheese.

Summary: This book was written in 1998 and is as relevant as ever. “Risk” can easily be substituted for “change.” An effective negotiator will discern how they feel about change and risk. Even more importantly, they will discern how the other negotiator approaches change or risk. They then may tailor their approach to the receiver.

So, if the negotiator is pitching a proposal:

- To the folks who embrace change, the negotiator can extol all of the changes that may happen as a result of accepting this proposal.

- To the folks who hate change, the negotiator can emphasize that most operations will not change. If the proposal is adopted, little will change.

- To the folks who are hesitant about change wondering WIIFM, the negotiator can state something like, if one adopts this proposal, employees can work remotely two days out of the week.

Law School Teaching of Dispute Resolution

Law School classes changed dramatically over the past decades in dispute resolution courses.

During the 1970’s, dispute resolution, including negotiation, was rarely discussed. Certainly there existed no ADR (alternative dispute resolution) courses. If negotiation was mentioned, it may have been in a trial advocacy class. Negotiation was presented as an adversarial “win/lose” approach. It was advised that the other negotiator be invited to one’s office so one could have the power. One should sit behind a large desk; seat the other negotiator in a soft couch so one is looking down on the negotiator; open the blinds so light shines in the negotiator’s face. Now, time to negotiation in a combative fashion.

This absence in teaching is most curious especially since 98% of civil cases are negotiated and 95% of criminal cases are plea bargained (aka negotiated).

Today, ADR courses are a mainstay of law school teaching. One could almost major in ADR at such law schools as Capital University (Columbus, Ohio) or The George Washington University (Washington, D.C.). Courses include:

- Business Negotiation

- Basic Negotiation

- Arbitration


- International ADR

- Mediation.

So, in this arena, the changes in teaching ADR are amazing!

Case Studies-Change During Mediations or Negotiations

Office Dispute Mediation Case Study: Capital University School of Law produced this case study and video. Two colleagues have an ongoing dispute that exploded one late morning. Their mutual boss advised them to solve this dispute via mediation. Many law schools use this as a case study and skill practice. The class is usually paired and play the roles of Tom and Elizabeth.

The first stage of negotiation is planning and this is emphasized in this case. In planning, one is speculating what the other negotiating partner is going to say or do. The students plan their role based on the behavior of the parties during the argument featured in the video.

When the role play actually takes place, often the student playing the role of the aggressive Tom transforms the mediation by beginning with an apology. The apology throws off the student playing Elizabeth and transforms the mediation. Much of the planning “goes out the window.”

So the role player negotiator needs to be flexible anticipating and embracing change. A sincere apology is a powerful tool and can be transformative.

The Power Screen Negotiation (aka HackerStar) Case Study: The program on negotiation at Harvard Law School produced this business partnership dispute. Hacker is a programmer, creating the Power Screen program; Star is a dentist and investor. Their partnership is in trouble resulting in a blow-out argument. The business attorney advised both parties to consult with separate negotiation executive coaches and negotiate this dispute.

This case study also emphasizes planning with their Negotiation Executive Coach.

One half hour into the mediation, Star exclaimed, This is not just about business, about dollars and cents. Don’t misunderstand me. Hacker recognized Change. Hacker replied, Can just Star and I have a moment to talk directly with Star without the attorneys.” Star’s statement and Hacker’s response created a transformative moment of change. A mediation settlement was in reach.


So, in conclusion, mediators, negotiators, and problem solvers need to plan ahead and anticipating change. Negotiators need to be agile, embracing change leading to an even better agreement or settlement.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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