American society is broken. We are so divided along political lines that we have lost the will and perhaps the ability to reach agreements. From a mediator’s perspective, it is ironic that we find ourselves in this position. We are a negotiating society: from cradle to grave we depend upon our negotiation skills to solve problems. Over 90% of all litigation filed in this country is settled rather than litigated; that means that the parties either negotiate a resolution on their own or with the help of a mediator. And yet for a society that is so comfortable with negotiation, we seem to have forgotten that effective negotiation requires give and take, compromise, and that an acceptable outcome usually contains agreements that address the interests of both sides.
The centerpiece of our democracy is the Constitution. It represents the epitome of compromise. It balances the interests of the states with those of the federal government. It balances the power of the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of government to see that no one branch acquires too much authority.
Our mediators and arbitrators from around the country are reporting back to us that some of the polarization so evident in Washington and in political circles is spilling over into collective bargaining. One of the impacts is that when parties replace explaining their interests with explaining their ideology, it becomes very difficult to reach an agreement. Parties are reluctant even to acknowledge that they share common interests because they view it as a matter of principle, of ideology.
Last year I wrote that we need to restore the dialogue: collective bargaining leaders that depend on good data, good listening skills, and good communication and yes, compromising skills, need to set an example and demonstrate the importance of dialogue.
A year later, the situation is no better, perhaps worse.
More than ever, labor and management leaders and your neutral counterparts need to work together to restore dialogue and civility. The enemy is not in the room: we still have much more in common and we need to work together to protect our common interests and our future.
It is critical that we find a way to help fix America, and I believe that we will go a long way if we start recognizing that there is no one point of view that represents the truth. It is our diversity of viewpoints which makes us strong, and which prepares us to contend with all sorts of challenges. America is ours to fix, and the time is now.