Disputes and conflicts are unavoidable. However, it is how they are managed and mitigated, that informs whether the outcome will effect positive or negative impact. Strathmore Institute of Public Policy and Governance hosted a public lecture by Professor Allen J. Zerkin, Adjunct Associate Professor of Public Administration at New York University’s (NYU) Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. He shared his remarks on “Effective Negotiations for Conflict Management.”
Professor Zerkin’s addresses how initiating interventions to use conflict to accord change in the public sector can make conflict a stimulant of positive influence, “Conflict is an important thing, but also, a dangerous opportunity which if not managed can erupt into something disruptive. Conflicts and disputes can only yield positive results when they are managed to minimize risks while maximizing on the opportunities,” explained Prof. Zerkin.
How do conflicts emerge in the public sector? This can start with a proposal to address or effect a motion, thereafter, sides or alliances are formed, perceptions become distorted, rhetoric becomes personal, direct communication stops, the conflict escalates and the various parties become too much invested to quit or to let the motion go. Escalation of conflicts makes getting to the solutions through negotiation, difficult to achieve.
Seeking agreement or consensus during a conflict, can either be achieved through a settlement of litigation initiatives, or consensus building through negotiation. “Consensus building is a facilitated or mediated process intended to enable multiple parties to reach an agreement without voting. These are initiated by agencies that have authority. Alternatively, it is the stakeholders themselves who would initiate the negotiations. This is, in my opinion, one of the most effective models where the stakeholders themselves have taken the initiative to solve the dispute,” said Prof. Zerkin. Additionally, “Legislation does not give the involved parties the prospects of maximizing on the opportunities of deeply thinking through solutions, since the court ruling decides which side is wrong, based on which case is stronger.”
Among his numerous successes in facilitating negotiation programs to solve public unrest, Prof. Zerkin facilitated the New York State Roundtable for Consensus on Tire Management, the consensus recommendations which became law in 2002-03 and have resulted in statewide tire recycling and the remediation of all the state’s illegal scrap tire piles. He also designed and facilitated the 2002 and 2007 Roundtables on the Prospects for Recycling in New York City, which brought national experts together with local civic and governmental leaders to think through how to a cost-effectively advance NYC’s recycling program; the 2002 Roundtable is widely credited with providing the Mayor and the City Council with the ideas that enabled them to resolve their political stand-off in 2002 and re-establish the city’s recycling program.
“The essence of good negotiation is to see how to trade without losing that which of most important,” concluded Prof. Zerkin.
The Strathmore Institute of Public Policy and Governance (SIPPG) was set up to act as an avenue for generating and channeling Strathmore Business School’s research output to society and to the economy. With an expanded mandate, the institute seeks to promote Interdisciplinary Policy Research, documentation of generated knowledge, translation and dissemination of research finding to society and building a community of thinkers.