Self Help

Possible - William Ury

Author Photo

Matheus Puppe

· 40 min read

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  • The author was inspired by the threat of nuclear war as a child and has spent over 50 years studying and applying conflict resolution techniques in a wide range of disputes.
  • He advocates a “possibilist” mindset that sees new opportunities even in seemingly intractable conflicts, drawing on examples like the Cold War and South African apartheid.
  • The author emphasizes the importance of three “victories” in conflict transformation - going to the “balcony” to gain perspective, building a “golden bridge” to satisfy all sides, and engaging the “third side” of the community.
  • Practical techniques include pausing to manage emotions, uncovering underlying interests rather than just positions, and carefully designing the physical environment for difficult discussions.
  • The author shares lessons from failed mediation attempts, highlighting the need to involve all stakeholders and build internal consensus, not just negotiate with formal leadership.
  • Overall, the passage portrays the author’s lifelong mission to help humanity transform destructive conflicts into productive negotiations through creativity, curiosity and collaborative problem-solving.


  • The author discusses his lifelong quest to understand how to transform destructive conflicts into constructive negotiations. He was inspired by this question as a child growing up after World War 2 and the looming threat of nuclear war.

  • He went on to study anthropology in college to learn about human nature and cultural differences as it relates to conflict. He sought out real-world conflicts to apply negotiation techniques.

  • Over 50 years, he has worked on disputes ranging from labor strikes to international conflicts to family issues. He looks for what methods are effective in even the most intractable situations.

  • Today, the author sees conflict rising around the world due to increasing polarization, communications technology amplifying disagreements, and accelerating societal changes.

  • However, he argues conflict is natural and not inherently bad. Constructive conflict drives important change and challenges us to improve. The key is dealing with differences constructively rather than destructively.

  • His lifelong quest has been to understand how to transform tough conflicts from confrontation to collaborative negotiation through open-minded dialogue rather than attack.

The passage describes the author’s experience rafting through the Grand Canyon and having a conversation with a fellow traveler, George Siemon, about the current state of conflict and inability to work together in the US. George notes that people feel stuck and point fingers instead of solving problems. The author reflects on how being in the calm setting of the canyon provided perspective on human conflicts over vast timescales.

The author questions how we can embrace and transform conflicts rather than resolve them. Transforming conflicts means changing them from destructive fighting to productive negotiations that open new possibilities. This is a larger goal than reaching agreements, focusing more on improving relationships over time. The author believes we have innate human capacities for cooperation that can help us work through even very challenging conflicts, if we apply creativity, curiosity and collaboration.

The author sees “possibility” as an alternative to thinking in terms of resolution, and advocates a “possibilist” mindset of seeing new opportunities even in conflicts that seem stuck. They discuss experiences transforming seemingly intractable conflicts like the Cold War and South African apartheid. The goal is gradual improvements in relationships through small breakthroughs over time. While acknowledging humanity’s capacity for cruelty, the author remains optimistic about our ability to turn destructive conflicts into productive negotiations based on decades of experience with conflict transformation.

  • The passage describes arriving at a makeshift hospital in a school gymnasium in a conflict zone surrounded by land mines. A woman had just given birth there.

  • The author reflects on how these innocent victims symbolize the plight of humanity, caught between nuclear superpowers prepared to unleash destruction at a moment’s notice.

  • More recently, the author’s work has focused on the war in Ukraine. Three and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe is once again the scene of fierce battles and atrocities, with the threat of nuclear war looming.

  • The author had originally intended to just write a book, but felt compelled to get directly involved in conversations with those involved in the Ukraine conflict, trying to mitigate the horrors and help end the war.

  • Even on a single 10km stretch of the front lines in winter, 100 soldiers were being killed daily on each side. The negative possibilities of conflict are on full display.

  • To be a possibilist means looking at negative possibilities squarely and using them as motivation to search persistently for positive possibilities. The work is never done.

  • What is made by humans can be changed by humans. The challenges we face are human ones that require human solutions, not technical fixes. Our task is to apply our innate collaborative problem-solving abilities to today’s divides.

Here is a one sentence summary:

To transform difficult conflicts, one must first gain perspective through self-mastery, build understanding across divisions, and unlock collaborative solutions by engaging communities of support.

The passage discusses how to transform difficult conflicts by achieving three “victories” - going to the balcony, building a golden bridge, and engaging the third side.

It tells an ancient story about three brothers inheriting camels in a way that couldn’t be fairly divided. They fight until a wise woman gives them an extra camel, solving the problem and bringing everyone together.

This story illustrates the three victories. The wise woman goes to the balcony to see the bigger picture. She builds a golden bridge by offering a solution that satisfies everyone. Engaging the third side, she helps end the conflict between the brothers.

The key is working on oneself (the balcony), building understanding with others (the bridge), and involving the community (third side) together. The best way to start is through practical imagination - envisioning a “victory speech” where all sides can claim success to make the impossible seem possible. This thought experiment is useful for transforming difficult conflicts.

The author describes an encounter during mediation efforts between President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and opposition groups. He and his colleagues arrive late for a scheduled meeting with Chavez. However, instead of meeting alone as before, Chavez is surrounded by his entire cabinet.

When asked for his impressions, the author notes some progress in talks. But Chavez angrily lashes out, calling the mediators “fools.” The author reacts with anger and embarrassment initially. However, he employs a calming technique of pinching his palm taught to him previously. This helps him detach emotionally and observe Chavez “from the balcony.”

Rather than reacting or arguing back, the author listens patiently. Over 30 minutes, Chavez continues angrily ranting without response. His energy seems to taper off with no reaction provided. The author believes staying calm and listening, rather than reacting, was key to de-escalating the tense situation. This “balcony” perspective helped transform an interaction that could have escalated into a more constructive exchange.

  • Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, had become very angry and launched into a 30-minute tirade against Ury during a meeting. Ury noticed Chavez’s shoulders sinking with weariness and heard him sigh.

  • Chavez then asked Ury for advice, presenting an opportunity. Earlier that day, Ury had noticed protesters from both sides of the political conflict seemed depressed as Christmas approached.

  • Ury proposed a “Christmas truce” where political negotiations would pause over the holidays to allow tensions to cool off. Chavez was surprised but liked the idea, shifting his mood completely. The truce helped ease tensions in the country.

  • This encounter taught Ury the importance of influencing his own emotions and thoughts first before trying to influence others. Going to the “balcony” to gain perspective helped him come up with the truce proposal that changed the situation. Pause, perspective, and remaining calm can unlock potential for resolving conflicts.

The passage describes a time when the author visited New Guinea in 1995 and witnessed ongoing clan warfare over land disputes. He spoke to a local warrior who casually described how his clan had killed members of another clan in retaliation for deaths on both sides, with the death toll at 8 so far.

The author then met with an aid worker who was teaching the warriors conflict resolution techniques. The biggest lesson for the warriors was the concept of “going to the balcony” - pausing to let anger cool down before deciding how to respond, rather than automatically retaliating. This showed them they had a choice in how to act.

The author believes we all have a tendency to get trapped in a reactive mindset like the warriors did. However, we have the power to choose whether to react or pause and respond intentionally instead. Pausing creates space between the incident and our response, shifting us from a reactive to a proactive state of mind where we can act in our own interests. While not always easy, exercising choice through pausing can help resolve conflicts in a constructive way.

  • The speaker was part of negotiations between Chechen and Russian delegations over the conflict in Chechnya.

  • The Chechen vice president gave an angry speech accusing the Russians of war crimes and criticizing US support for Russia.

  • He then turned his criticism to the US, accusing them of oppressing Puerto Rico. All eyes turned to the speaker for a response.

  • The speaker paused to collect himself, taking deep breaths. He realized the Chechen was trying to bait him into an argument and defused the tension by refocusing on solving Chechnya’s problems.

  • Later, the Chechen vice president privately thanked the speaker, indicating the pause helped de-escalate the situation.

  • The speaker believes pausing allows one to understand conflicts are often rooted in trauma and reacting further only perpetuates negative emotions. Taking a breath can help calm the “90-second” chemical reaction and choose a more constructive response.

  • In tense situations, observing one’s own internal experience through mindfulness helps gain distance from uncomfortable feelings so they don’t control the response.

  • Oscillating between high arousal emotions like anger and low arousal ones like despair wears people down. “Resourcing” through relaxing activities helps stay in a moderate optimal state to handle conflict effectively long-term.

  • Taking walks, especially in nature, helps the author clear his mind and come up with creative insights and ideas. It balances his mood and builds emotional resilience.

  • Beauty found in nature acts as an antidote to stress and allows him to see conflict situations more clearly with new possibilities. Mountains in particular provide helpful perspective.

  • Before difficult negotiations, taking a walk outdoors helps the author listen for new opportunities or approaches. A walk in Paris led to an insight that changed the framing and outcomes of a challenging negotiation.

  • Building in intentional breaks, or “balconies,” is important for pausing in high conflict situations. This could mean breaks during meetings, spacing out meetings, or incorporating walks. It’s important to recruit trusted colleagues for support too.

  • Carefully designing the physical environment where difficult discussions take place can help parties relax and feel safe engaging differences constructively. Removing stress allows people to be at their best.

  • A retreat at a rustic inn by a mountain lake helped political adversaries relax, share personal stories to find common values, and discuss hopes for the future in a less adversarial way. Place and environment have power to shape interactions.

  • The authors had a difficult first encounter with Dr. Tanner, a surgeon, who made insensitive comments about their infant daughter’s upcoming surgery. They developed a negative impression of him.

  • However, upon further reflection and investigation, they realized they wanted the best care for their daughter above all else. The author’s walk helped him realize this.

  • When they met with Dr. Tanner again and learned more about his competency and kindness, their impression changed. They decided to have him treat their daughter.

  • Over 10 years, Dr. Tanner performed several complex surgeries on their daughter and provided excellent care. He grew more empathetic after his own daughter’s death from cancer.

  • Their relationship with Dr. Tanner, which started off poorly, developed positively far beyond what they imagined. This demonstrated the importance of pausing initial reactions and focusing on underlying needs and interests, like ensuring the best medical care for their daughter. Zooming in on interests can transform conflicts.

  • The story illustrates the importance of distinguishing between positions and interests in negotiation and conflict resolution. Positions are concrete demands or stances, while interests refer to the underlying needs, concerns or motivations.

  • Focusing only on positions can lead to an impasse, as opposing positions seem irreconcilable. But exploring interests can reveal compatibility and open up possible mutual gains.

  • In the library story, the students’ positions of wanting the window open/closed seemed opposed. But their interests of fresh air vs avoiding drafts allowed a creative solution.

  • Going deeper than surface-level interests to uncover core needs and values is sometimes needed to transform difficult conflicts. The author dove deeper with Aceh separatist leaders to help shape their negotiation strategy.

  • Repeatedly asking “Why?” can help uncover deeper layers of interests and motivations instead of staying stuck on positions. This allows for new options where interests rather than positions are satisfied.

  • In negotiation, exploring interests opens possibilities, while fixation on positions closes them off. Understanding interests is key to reaching agreements that address everyone’s concerns.

  • The author is advising a friend and business leader named Abilio Diniz who is embroiled in a bitter dispute with his former French business partner over control of their supermarket company.

  • The conflict has consumed Abilio and is poisoning him with anger and stress. His family is worried about him.

  • To help uncover what’s really driving the conflict, the author asks Abilio a series of “why” questions to get beneath the surface issues to his deeper motivations and needs.

  • With each answer, Abilio thinks he’s concluded the matter but the author keeps probing deeper.

  • Eventually Abilio arrives at his core need - “liberdade” or freedom. Specifically, he wants the freedom to spend time with his family and make business deals, which are his passions.

  • Uncovering basic human needs like freedom, belonging, dignity can help resolve conflicts by finding common ground and opportunities for agreement beneath surface disagreements. It provides clarity and strength to navigate difficult situations.

  • The author was asked to mediate a conflict between miners and management at a coal mine in Kentucky that was experiencing wildcat strikes and firings.

  • When he arrived, he met separately with the mine manager Mike Johnson and the union president Bill Blount. Both men blamed the other side for the problems and demanded firings to resolve the issues.

  • The author and his co-mediator Steve tried to get both sides to sit down together but they refused, taking entrenched positions against each other.

  • During shuttle diplomacy, the author zoomed in to understand the underlying needs and interests of each side but failed to get them to the table together.

  • The mediation failed as positions hardened and the strikes continued. It was a learning experience for the author on the importance of getting parties in the same room and zooming out to understand the full context and system impacts.

So in summary, it was the author’s first mediation experience which failed because the parties refused to meet jointly and positions became too polarized, despite efforts to understand underlying interests. He learned the value of getting parties together and seeing the bigger picture.

  • There was a labor dispute between miners and mine management at a coal mine. The union leader took a hardline stance, saying management only understands power.

  • Miners would engage in “wildcat strikes” by emptying their water canteens when they had a grievance. This signaled to other miners to also leave work in solidarity, assuming management wouldn’t fire everyone.

  • Management took the union to court over these unauthorized strikes. The judge then jailed the entire workforce overnight, further enraging the miners and escalating tensions. Miners started bringing guns to work and the mine received bomb threats.

  • Mediators were brought in to try to negotiate a resolution. They focused on improving the grievance process to prevent wildcat strikes. After much negotiation, the union and management leaders agreed to a new contract.

  • However, the rank-and-file miners overwhelmingly rejected the agreement in a vote. The mediators’ efforts had failed because they did not directly involve the miners in the negotiation process and make their buy-in a priority.

  • The key lesson is to view conflicts from a wider perspective and identify all stakeholder groups, not just the formal leadership. Internal negotiations to build consensus are also important. Future mediation efforts would need to directly involve the miners to have any chance of success.

  • The passage describes the importance of identifying all stakeholders involved in a conflict, not just the main parties at the negotiation table. Mapping out all stakeholders can reveal unexpected obstacles and opportunities.

  • It introduces the concept of a BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement), which is one’s best course of action if no agreement is reached. Developing a strong BATNA gives confidence and independence in a negotiation.

  • It provides an example of a businessman, Abilio, who was able to improve his BATNA and regain a sense of freedom and agency through pursuing alternatives, rather than relying solely on reaching an agreement with his dispute counterpart.

  • The author suggests also considering one’s WATNA (Worst Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) to gain perspective during difficult moments in negotiations.

  • It discusses the author’s work trying to reduce risks of accidental nuclear war, and shares an example of a close call due to failures in crisis communication between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The passage describes how a nuclear missile misfire incident in the Cold War era was investigated by Richard Read and the author. However, the government did not seriously look into how to prevent future such incidents.

This close call, along with others, motivated the author to find ways to reduce nuclear risks and prevent accidental war. He helped establish exchanges between US and Soviet experts on this issue. The idea of creating “nuclear risk reduction centers” was proposed, to allow round-the-clock communication in crises.

There was skepticism of this idea at first. But the author and his colleagues built public support for it. Eventually, Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to establish such centers after coming to recognize the dangers of nuclear war. The passage sees this as an example of confronting risks to enable positive change.

  • The passage describes the historic 1978 Camp David Accords negotiated by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and facilitated by US President Jimmy Carter.

  • At Camp David, after 3 days of negotiations, the Israeli and Egyptian leaders were deadlocked, with Begin insisting on keeping Jewish settlements in the Sinai Peninsula occupied by Israel and Sadat refusing any agreement that didn’t require evacuating the settlements.

  • Roger Fisher, a Harvard professor, had given Camp David negotiator Cy Vance advice to use a “one-text process” where negotiators work from a single draft text rather than exchanging multiple versions.

  • Against expectations, 13 days later Carter announced Sadat and Begin had reached a peace agreement, ending decades of hostilities between Egypt and Israel.

  • The author was surprised by this outcome but wanted to understand how the leaders were able to “build a bridge” and transform their seemingly intractable conflict into an agreement. Lessons from Camp David on constructive conflict transformation could offer hope for resolving other conflicts.

  • The passage describes the “one-text” negotiation process that was used successfully in international negotiations. It involves a third party drafting a possible agreement text and revising it iteratively based on feedback from the parties until consensus is reached.

  • Roger Fisher and the author had written about this process in their unpublished “little book.” They recommended Secretary of State Cyrus Vance use this approach in Middle East peace talks at Camp David.

  • At a meeting convened by Roger Fisher, experts offered advice to Vance, including recommending the one-text process. This was sent to Vance but went unused at first.

  • When talks stalled, President Carter proposed using the one-text process. It involved understanding interests, drafting a proposal to address them, and revising the “non-paper” draft over 23 rounds based on party feedback.

  • An agreement emerged that both Egypt and Israel found acceptable. However, last-minute disagreements nearly derailed it. Carter’s personal appeal to Prime Minister Begin, citing his grandchildren, helped resolve the issues and the historic Camp David Accords were signed.

  • Dennis Rodman spoke to the author on the phone, sounding irritated after a bad day.

  • The author wanted to ask Rodman about his insights into Kim Jong Un, as Rodman was one of the only Americans to have met him.

  • The author believed Rodman’s insights could help prevent a catastrophic war between the US and North Korea in 2017, as tensions were rising over North Korea’s nuclear missile tests.

  • Rodman seemed irritated and hung up the phone on the author after their brief call. The author had traveled to Los Angeles for a dinner with Rodman at a friend’s house, but Rodman did not end up showing.

So in summary, the author unsuccessfully tried to get Dennis Rodman’s perspective on Kim Jong Un to help de-escalate tensions between the US and North Korea, but Rodman was in a bad mood and hung up on their brief phone call.

  • The author wanted to understand Kim Jong Un’s mindset and intentions during a tense nuclear crisis between North Korea and the US. Experts said the chances of war were high.

  • The only person who had gotten close to Kim was retired NBA star Dennis Rodman, who had befriended Kim on visits to North Korea. Rodman seemed to defend his connection to Kim despite criticism.

  • The author reached out to Rodman through a convoluted chain of connections, hoping Rodman’s insights into Kim could help defuse the crisis.

  • Rodman was reluctant at first but eventually met with the author. He shared his surprise at first meeting Kim at a basketball game. Rodman said Kim told him he was the only person who ever kept a promise to him.

  • Rodman convinced the author that Kim told him he does not want war and is serious about wanting peace. Rodman said Kim’s dream was to walk down Fifth Avenue in New York, suggesting Kim wanted acceptance and legitimacy on the global stage.

So in summary, the author sought out Rodman as the only direct link to understand Kim’s mindset during the nuclear crisis, in hopes it could provide a clue to defusing the crisis through diplomacy rather than confrontation.

  • The author meets with Dennis Rodman, who had become friends with Kim Jong Un after visiting North Korea. Rodman shares that Kim’s dream is to go to a Bulls game with him.

  • This gives the author a glimpse into Kim as a human with interests beyond politics. It inspires him to keep working on the North Korea conflict.

  • Months later when asking experts if anyone talked to Rodman, he is told no and dismissed as unserious. But the author found Rodman insightful.

  • Against expectations, Trump and Kim later develop a rapport. The author attributes this in part to their listening to Rodman about Kim’s psychology.

  • Deep listening means understanding others’ perspectives rather than just stating your own views. It means listening for feelings, needs, fears and dreams rather than just words.

  • The author learned this when preparing to meet Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. He focused on understanding Chavez’s mindset rather than having a pre-set agenda, which helped the discussion go productively.

  • The passage describes a meeting between the author and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2002 during a political crisis.

  • The author initially planned to go in and give recommendations, but on the advice of a song, decided instead to fully listen to Chávez without judgment or preconceptions.

  • This listening approach paid off - the 2.5 hour meeting became productive and established a good relationship, when otherwise Chávez may have cut it short.

  • Later, the author had a similarly eye-opening experience listening without judgment to a Syrian jihadist commander, humanizing him and gaining a deeper understanding of his perspective and dreams beyond stereotypes.

  • A key lesson is that dropping preconceptions and actively listening with empathy is crucial to understanding others in conflict, even when we may disagree with them. This builds trust and rapport.

  • To listen fully is to show basic human respect, which is the cheapest concession that can yield great results in transforming conflicts compared to immediate criticism or recommendations.

So in summary, the passage advocates the transformative power of listening without judgment to gain understanding of “the other” in conflict situations.

  • The passage discusses the extremely difficult challenge of persuading Marxist guerrillas in Colombia who had been fighting for 50 years to lay down their weapons and engage in peace negotiations.

  • President Juan Manuel Santos assembled an experienced international advisory team including Jonathan Powell, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Joaquín Villalobos, and Dudley Ankerson to help with the negotiations.

  • The 50-year civil war in Colombia had resulted in 450,000 deaths and 8 million victims but previous negotiation attempts had failed. Negotiating with the FARC guerrillas seemed impossible and politically risky.

  • However, Santos was committed to trying to achieve peace and end the senseless suffering. He believed negotiations could offer creative possibilities if done right.

  • The author was inspired by Santos’ commitment and willingness to risk his political capital to give peace a chance. He traveled to Colombia 25 times over 7 years to help with the negotiations.

  • For any outcome to be sustainable, it could not simply be an “either-or” victory for one side over the other. It had to be a “both-and” solution that both sides could claim as an advance to be a shared victory for all Colombians.

  • Achieving such a creative solution would require tapping into humanity’s natural capacity for creativity. Creativity is an innate human ability that is the source of our greatest achievements.

  • The passage describes an exercise used by the author to stimulate collective creativity among Colombian negotiators and peace advisors in developing a negotiating strategy with the FARC guerrilla group.

  • They were tasked with imagining a “victory speech” that the FARC leader might give to justify accepting a peace agreement and disarming after 50 years of war. Enrique Santos played the role of the FARC leader.

  • In questioning the imaginary speech, interests of the FARC began to emerge like social justice, land reform, political power, and personal security.

  • The group was then asked to develop the key points that could make up the negotiating agenda to address these interests and justify peace to FARC fighters.

  • Initial items discussed for the agenda included agrarian reform to facilitate land access, reduce rural poverty, extend services to farmers; and political participation to allow FARC to run for office freely.

  • The exercise tapped into collective creativity to help envision a potential peace agreement in a playful, solutions-oriented manner.

  • The passage discusses Sergio Jaramillo, the close advisor and peace commissioner to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos during negotiations with the FARC guerrilla group.

  • It describes how Jaramillo and others developed a draft negotiating agenda during a secret meeting by a swimming pool in Colombia in 2012. This agenda later formed the basis for the framework agreement that launched formal peace talks.

  • The draft agenda considered priorities and needs from both sides. It addressed key issues like disarmament, demobilization and security guarantees in a way that offered mutual gains.

  • After modifications during discussions in Havana, the draft agenda evolved into a five-page framework agreement that was signed by both sides after six months of negotiations.

  • This agreement then structured the following four years of detailed negotiations that ultimately resulted in a historic peace deal ending Colombia’s long civil war.

  • Jaramillo later cited the original flip chart draft as the “essence of the deal” that set the negotiations on a path to success.

So in summary, it describes how an initial creative brainstorming session between advisors produced a draft agenda that effectively laid the foundations for the successful peace negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC rebels.

The passage discusses holding a meeting over dinner to address a conflict. Breaking bread together in a non-political university context helped bring together people from opposing sides of conflicts, like Palestinians and Israelis or Indians and Pakistanis.

Seating participants side-by-side facing a common challenge on a flip chart, rather than across from each other, encouraged seeing the problem from the same perspective. This was seen as revolutionary at the time in the hallowed halls of Harvard.

Ideas were built upon each other as the group worked collectively, harnessing everyone’s intelligence. No one could claim sole credit for the ideas. This was initially unsettling but ultimately more satisfying as they worked together for a common cause of peace.

The informal dinner atmosphere cultivated connection among strangers who could not meet face-to-face in their home countries due to risks. The process acknowledged everyone’s contributions and encouraged seeing the problem as a shared challenge rather than opposing each other.

  • The content of the agreement initially proposed by the student and Steve wasn’t fully trusted by the miners. While it included issues they wanted addressed, they didn’t trust that management would genuinely sign on to or implement it.

  • Rather than give up, the student proposed a new approach - listening to the miners first to understand their concerns, and encouraging open dialogue between the two sides to build trust in the process.

  • The student spent the summer in Kentucky, trying to speak with miners but finding it difficult as they were suspicious of him as an outsider from management.

  • To connect with them, he decided to go down into the mines during shifts to talk with miners while they were working. This allowed more open discussion away from managers.

  • Over time, as the student showed he was genuinely listening without judgment and addressing miners’ grievances through negotiated agreements, trust in the process and their relationship gradually improved. Conflict transformed from strikes to constructive talks.

  • The key was building trust through actively listening to understand miners’ perspectives, then implementing a fair and collaborative problem-solving process both sides could have faith in.

Here are some possible next steps after successfully using a trust menu to build initial trust:

  1. Expand engagement through informal dialogues. Now that they have established working trust through small reciprocated signals, the parties could have informal conversations to better understand each other’s perspectives and interests. This could help open the doors to more substantive negotiations.

  2. Develop a roadmap for future cooperation. With increased understanding, the parties may see opportunities for joint projects where their interests align. They could start listing practical areas of potential cooperation and a phased process for implementing them over time.

  3. Address underlying issues through facilitated talks. Once a working relationship is established, the parties may feel ready to tackle more difficult substantive issues with the help of a neutral facilitator. Confidence-building measures and mutual understanding built through early trust-building could pave the way for progressive resolution of underlying conflicts.

  4. Agree on principles and parameters for formal negotiations. With experience of cooperation, the parties may want to transition to official negotiations. They could develop shared principles of the negotiations as well as mutually agreed limits on what is negotiated to give talks the highest chances of success.

  5. Consider involving stakeholders through dialogues. To strengthen the peace process, conversations could broaden to include other affected stakeholders through workshops, public consultations or citizen assemblies. This would build broader stakeholder buy-in for resolutions.

  6. Institutionalize trust and cooperation through agreements. The end goal would be to formalize commitments, resolve substantive issues, and establish institutions through peace agreements and implementation mechanisms. But this depends on sustained progress through the earlier confidence-building phases.

  • In early 2018, tensions between the US and North Korea were high, with Trump and Kim Jong Un trading threats and insults.

  • The author believed an in-person meeting between Trump and Kim could help defuse tensions and be presented as a victory for both leaders.

  • In March 2018, the author proposed this idea to Ivanka Trump at the White House.

  • In a surprise move, Trump and Kim held a summit in Singapore in June 2018. Though no substantive agreements were reached, both leaders declared victory and praised their new relationship.

  • Through the power of crafting an attractive narrative, the leaders were able to proclaim peace and lower the risk of war, even without concrete policy changes. The meeting itself broke taboos and allowed them to portray themselves as peacemakers.

So in summary, the author argues creative storytelling and perception of victory, not substance, explains how Trump and Kim went from threats to praising their new friendship in 2018.

The key events were during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the world came dangerously close to nuclear war between the US and USSR. At a meeting in 1989, surviving officials from both sides shared details of what really happened behind closed doors. It was revealed that Soviet nuclear missiles were already active in Cuba and ready to fire, with a 99% chance of nuclear war had the US invaded as planned. The crisis was only averted by a last-minute secret deal negotiated between Robert Kennedy and Anatoly Dobrynin to have the Soviets remove the missiles in return for the US not invading Cuba and removing its missiles from Turkey.

The author was shocked to learn just how close to catastrophe the world had come. It highlighted the need to “engage the third side” - bringing in outside parties to help defuse tensions between adversaries. Iconic photos and framing conflicts in an attractive narrative can help transform mortal enemies into cooperative partners by engaging imagination and possibilities for mutual understanding.

This passage discusses our propensity for war and how conflict can be addressed without violence. After witnessing intense conflicts, the author wondered how deep differences could be dealt with while preserving what is valued.

For insight, the author visited indigenous groups in southern Africa like the Kua who have managed conflicts for millennia. They emphasize open communication involving the entire community in discussions to understand issues from all sides and find solutions benefiting all. Conflict is framed as a community problem as it threatens the group’s survival. Agreements alone are insufficient - relationships must also be healed through reconciliation.

The author then observed South Africa’s transition from apartheid. Many predicted prolonged violence but instead, in just five years, apartheid ended largely nonviolently. Crucial factors included the “third side” - the engagement of the international community applying pressure and local community, religious and civic groups facilitating negotiations across divides. Leadership from figures like Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s inclusive third-side approach embracing all South Africans also helped transformations conflicts and build an inclusive democracy.

  • Mandela declared in his inaugural address that South Africa had triumphed in implanting hope in its people and building a “rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

  • The author found a clue to resolving conflicts from observing South Africa - it had created an alternative to violence by involving the “third side” or larger community to contain and slowly transform even the most difficult conflicts.

  • The “third side” refers to the community or wider social context that is always present in conflicts, beyond just the two opposing parties. It represents the perspective of the whole.

  • Mandela himself became a representative of the third side as he led one party but advocated for the whole of South Africa.

  • Engaging the third side means mobilizing people power through peers adopting the whole perspective and supporting conflict transformation. It unlocks the potential around a conflict by welcoming all parties, helping them resolve issues, and applying community influence/leverage.

  • The author aims to develop the latent “superpower” of the third side to help transform conflicts through inclusion rather than two-sided escalation.

  • Francisco organized a public dialogue meeting to bring together polarized Chavistas (supporters of President Hugo Chavez) and anti-Chavistas in Venezuela. They expected 150-200 people but over 1000 showed up, with soldiers keeping order due to fears of violence between the groups.

  • The dialogue was held in a theater that only held 500 people. The mediator, unsure of how to handle the large crowd, decided to proceed with the planned meeting.

  • When he addressed the crowded theater, the mediator emphasized the need to prevent violence and civil war. He noted early warning signs present in Venezuela and the importance of a “third side” that stands against violence.

  • The mediator had the crowd shout “Basta!” (Enough!) in protest of violence, uniting their voice against it. This seemed to shift the emotional atmosphere in a more positive direction.

  • In breakout sessions, participants from different sides discussed ways to prevent violence and preserve peace, showing creativity and cooperation. The meeting activated the latent power of the “third side” to interrupt escalation toward violence.

  • The experience related to a poem about meeting exclusion with inclusion as an emotional jujitsu strategy for transforming conflict at its core, where exclusion often fuels conflicts across many divisions.

  • The passage describes an initiative to create a long-distance walking path across the Middle East, retracing the legendary journey of Abraham, in order to promote peace and understanding between different religious groups.

  • It started as an idea among friends having dinner in 2003, as conflicts in the region were heightening tensions globally. They discussed how walking Abraham’s path could remind people of their shared humanity.

  • The author and colleagues spent years studying other long-distance trails, consulting local communities, and mapping routes. They launched test walks to determine feasibility.

  • The Abraham Path Initiative officially began in 2007, supported by the UN and World Bank. Portions of trail have opened in multiple countries.

  • Thousands have now walked parts of the routes, staying with local families along the way. The goal is to use the shared story of Abraham to bridge divisions and show that cooperation is possible through cultural understanding.

The passage describes efforts to foster understanding and transform conflicts in the Middle East region through hosting differences in an unconventional way. Specifically, it discusses the Abraham Path project, which invites people to walk together in the ancient footsteps of Abraham.

While there is no overt conflict resolution, hosting differences indirectly challenges old stereotypes and grows mutual understanding. The key is having open conversations without direct confrontation. Drawing on the biblical story of Abraham’s hospitality, walking the path opens people to new connections by simply hosting and being hosted by others.

The author learned that the human impulse to connect, welcome others, and find common ground can help address differences. Even simple acts like inviting adversaries for coffee listening to their perspectives can advance conflict transformation. Overall, the passage advocates an approach of hosting, witnessing, and weaving people together to strengthen social bonds and open new possibilities for peace.

Here is a summary of the key events:

  • The Colombian peace commissioner Sergio Jaramillo calls the author for help with stalled peace talks in Bogota to end the civil war. One of the biggest issues is transitional justice and accountability for war crimes.

  • They have been trying for a month to explain to a general in the delegation why language about institutional responsibility for war crimes is necessary, but he refuses to accept it. He left the talks in Havana and returned to Bogota.

  • This threatens the entire peace process as it may not have public support without backing from the military. Sergio is worried the president may side with the general.

  • The author travels to Bogota to try and help reach an internal agreement on language within the delegation that can then be proposed to the other side in the talks.

  • When he arrives, Sergio is in an agitated state as his years of work on the peace talks are now in peril if they cannot resolve this issue with the general.

The key points are that the peace talks are stalled due to a dispute over transitional justice language, and the author has been called in to help mediate an agreement within the Colombian delegation so the talks can continue toward ending the long-running civil war.

  • The author met with a highly respected former Colombian military general to discuss concerns over the language in peace talks about “collective responsibility”.

  • The general expressed concerns that this language targeting “institutional actors” was really a code targeting the military. He cited examples from other countries where military leaders faced legal punishment while politicians escaped responsibility.

  • The author then met with the chief negotiator who argued the language was important to acknowledge responsibility of all sides, including guerrillas, military and paramilitaries.

  • In a next meeting with the full delegation, the author used a whiteboard to visually illustrate the issue. Replacing “institutional” with “state” addressed the general’s concerns by making clear all government decision makers, not just military, would be collectively responsible.

  • This small change resolved an issue stalling talks for over a month. It showed how an outside perspective can help parties see new possibilities to resolve conflicts they are too close to. The key is listening, understanding different views, and asking clarifying questions.

  • The author was invited to facilitate confidential dialogue between Turkish and Kurdish leaders in France regarding their long-running civil war in Turkey.

  • Hostility between the groups was extremely high, with even talking to the other side seen as treasonous. The leaders risked their careers and safety by participating.

  • Early on, two leaders - Ali advocating for Kurdish rights, and Mehmet a Turkish nationalist - seemed to represent the strongest opposing views. Mehmet stormed out after Ali mentioned “self-determination.”

  • The author convinced Mehmet to return and continued facilitating, emphasizing the need to understand different perspectives despite anger.

  • In a surprising development, Ali acknowledged Kurds’ right to self-determination but proposed remaining equals in Turkey, and said he would defend Turkey against threats. This relieved tensions.

  • That night, Ali and Mehmet talked extensively. The next day, a transformed Mehmet thanked Ali for helping him understand, and acknowledged everyone’s right to their identity.

  • The author notes that parties themselves can facilitate dialogue and advance conflict resolution if given a safe space, as Ali and Mehmet demonstrated through their discussions. Their breakthrough showed the transformative power of genuine dialogue between even bitter enemies.

  • Mitchell invited 12 volunteers to participate in a 2-week social experiment to simulate “swarming” an impossible conflict problem, like preventing nuclear war with North Korea.

  • The idea of swarming is to creatively attack the problem from all sides using radical collaboration, like high-performing tech teams do.

  • Mitchell was inspired by a conversation with design thinking expert Patrice Martin, who suggested prototyping solutions through doing rather than waiting.

  • The group included people with diverse backgrounds like lawyers, mediators, storytellers and a military veteran. None had North Korea expertise, but the goal was to simulate a swarming approach.

  • Facilitator Rob Evans and a graphic artist joined to help the process. They rented a house to hold intensive collaborative sessions for the 2 weeks to develop new possibilities for preventing nuclear war with North Korea.

  • The experiment aimed to test if swarming, with diverse perspectives intensely collaborating, could crack open seemingly impossible conflict problems in the way collaborative tech teams solve software issues.

The social experiment began by forming a team to simulate swarming the US-North Korea conflict to find ways to avert war. Swarming refers to self-organizing collaboration to solve a problem innovatively.

The team nicknamed themselves a SWAT team for peace and focused intensely on the question of what could be done the next morning to reduce nuclear war risk. They researched the leaders, decision-makers and consulted experts to gain perspectives.

Ideas were gathered on display boards and flip charts. The team broke into groups to role-play as Team Trump and Team Kim to understand their motivations and perspectives. Insights were shared daily to build understanding and improvement.

The pace was intense but satisfying to tackle a dangerous problem. Breaks involved exercise, music and play to support creativity and collaboration. Experts noted the real danger of the situation and lack of teams actively working to prevent conflict.

Given the gravity, the team decided to try continuing their simulation as a real effort to swarm and help practically avert the looming threat of war through focused prevention work.

  • Access, credibility and trust (ACT) are vital for third parties to influence conflict situations, but are difficult to build on their own.

  • The anthropological research describes how indigenous communities like the Kua and Semai use collective influence (swarming) to address conflicts. The entire community mobilizes to persuade parties to reconcile through pooled access, credibility and trust.

  • Jonathan Powell and Glyn Ford had built access with North Korea over decades of engagement. The author worked with them and a team of experts to have over 85 meetings influencing the US-North Korea nuclear negotiations through their pooled ACT.

  • Swarming conflict is a natural human response, as seen in indigenous communities resolving disputes communally rather than individually. It applies collective influence and power to address injustice in a way one party alone cannot.

  • The author provides a personal example of swarming a family conflict situation, where anger and isolation were replaced with communal problem-solving through pooled relationships and influence within the extended family network.

  • The author encountered a destructive pattern of behavior from his son that was straining family relationships. Attempts by just the parents to change it were ineffective.

  • They sought help from a counselor who designed an intensive two-month program for the son involving workshops, peer support, counseling sessions, and time with family members to support personal transformation.

  • This constituted assembling a “swarm” or community to surround the son and help him change - none of them alone could have done it.

  • The program was successful - upon returning, the son sincerely apologized, changed his behavior, and pursuing positive goals. His relationship with his parents improved.

  • Years later, the son has become a loving father and husband, showing he fulfilled his potential. It took a community effort rather than just the parents to help him transform.

  • The author likens it to how police use swarm-like hostage negotiation teams or how violence interrupters work in teams to help resolve conflicts - it requires a coordinated group effort. A single person alone cannot spark the needed change.

  • Ameena Matthews works as a violence interrupter in communities affected by gang violence. As a former member of these communities herself, she is able to build trust and relate to high-risk young men in a way that many others cannot.

  • The passage then talks about how the author worked with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and a team of five key negotiation advisors to help end Colombia’s civil war. They would meet regularly with Santos and provide counsel, drawing on their diverse experiences. They worked extremely well as a team, combining their different skills and perspectives.

  • Santos described them as serving as his “balcony,” keeping an eye on the bigger picture and helping build a “golden bridge” to peace. Their collaboration produced “swarm intelligence” greater than any individual.

  • Building a winning coalition is important to overcoming resistance in conflicts, as it provides more persuasive power collectively than any one party. The passage describes how Santos worked to transform opponents like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro into supporters of the peace process. He also included neutral parties like Norway to help facilitate.

  • Internal Colombian constituencies like the military and business sector also needed to be part of the winning coalition. The peace agreement was finally signed with representatives from both sides present, marking an end to the long civil war.

  • The story describes the author’s friend Luis and his daughter Juliana attending a celebration for a peace agreement in Colombia after many years of war. Luis had initially hesitated to get involved in peace negotiations due to his and his family’s personal experiences during the war.

  • Juliana insisted that he play his part to help end the war, saying they must do everything possible to achieve peace. The author witnessed their emotional reunion celebrating the hard-won peace.

  • However, the peace process hit a setback when a referendum on the agreement was narrowly lost due to low turnout and a disinformation campaign. Everyone was shocked, wondering if peace was now impossible.

  • With the help of peace advocates inside and outside the country forming a “third side,” pressure was applied to save the agreement. This included the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to President Santos.

  • Citizens held large protests demanding the process continue until a new agreement was reached. After difficult renegotiations, a revised deal was signed, ending the decades-long war in Colombia in a historic achievement that many once thought impossible.

  • Gabi, the writer’s daughter, wanted to break the world record for planking (holding a push-up position) for her 16th birthday.

  • On her birthday, with friends and family watching, Gabi held the plank for 30 minutes before struggling in pain. Her friends sang songs to distract her.

  • At 40 minutes she broke the world record to applause. Amazingly, she continued and eventually held it for 1 hour and 20 minutes, doubling the world record.

  • She was then invited on Good Morning America where she was officially recognized by Guinness World Records.

  • The writer was moved by her persistence, courage and grit in accomplishing what seemed impossible. It renewed his faith in the human spirit to open new possibilities.

  • Gabi saw opportunities where others saw obstacles. Her motto was “I see it differently, and that makes all the difference.”

Author Photo

About Matheus Puppe