Following the brutal ouster of Russian Tsar Nicholas in 1917, a bunch of revolutionaries debated about what Russia needed most in the wake of the revolution. Various intellectuals gave long-winded spiels with many fancy words. As legend has it, Vladimir Lenin, soon to be the first leader of the Soviet Union, got up and gave this 3-word speech (which I illustrated above):
Land. Bread. Peace.
(In my mind this was followed by “Lenin out” and a mic drop).
Again, I’m not endorsing Leninism, or any other -ism here. But there is a useful take-away from this story for mediators. In the din of confusion, chaos, and conflict, it’s not so easy for parties to understand what really matters. Mediators aren’t there to impose their ideas, interpretations, or assumptions about parties’ needs. But what we can do is frame what we’ve heard in broad, balanced, and neutral language that resonates with the disputants, in order to help frame a constructive conversation.
Like unto the myriad issues facing post-revolutionary Russia (don’t get me started on the whole Bolshevik vs. Menshevik thing), even the most complex conflicts can be distilled into a few key issues — things like respect, communication, the kids, the financial situation, etc. This is interest-based negotiation in a nutshell.
Once a mediator helps parties excavate the key issues — and checks in with them to ensure that they got it right– parties are more likely to hear each other and perhaps work toward a common understanding. And even if they don’t agree on how to move forward, they’ve at least agreed on what’s really important.
Da zvedanya, comrades.