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Why Help?

It is not easy for those who are trapped in a conflict to go to the balcony or build a golden bridge. Negotiations often get stuck in seemingly insurmountable standoffs. We all need help at times. 

New possibilities can emerge when a capable third party is introduced into the equation. As a third sider, you can bring the perspective of being outside the situation to bring a little daylight into the impenetrable darkness of an intractable conflict. From outside the context, you may be able to see things the parties can’t. You have the ability to pose questions and suggest possible ideas without being invested in either side’s positions. You can facilitate effective communication and joint problem-solving. Your aim is an agreement that meets the underlying interests of both sides.

Oftentimes, the biggest blocks aren’t just between the parties but within the parties. During the Colombian peace negotiations with the FARC, for example, William Ury was called upon to help informally mediate internal negotiations on one of the hardest issues: transitional justice. In this audio episode, William describes how he helped the parties by engaging in shuttle diplomacy to overcome a stalemate that threatened the entire negotiation process.

Practice Help

  1. Shuttle diplomacy - iterate and itinerate. Use a third party to privately convey information and ideas back and forth between the parties.

  2. Use a 1-Text. Create a single working document that captures the issues and addresses the interests of both parties. Invite both parties to critique the draft document and then incorporate their comments in successive revisions to get closer to an agreement that satisfies the interests of all parties.

  3. Circulate an angel paper (with an iconic photo). Insert ideas into the process without taking credit, as if they came down from the heavens. Include an iconic photo to visualize success and help people viscerally feel what’s possible.

Audio Series


This week, we go with William to Bogotá, Colombia, in 2015, where he is serving as a senior advisor during negotiations to end the brutal 50-year civil war. The internal delegation is at an impasse, stuck in internal conflict, and the fate of the entire negotiation is at risk. In a surprising turn of events, made possible with the help and perspective of the third side, the parties break through. William shows us that any one of us can help a conflict by taking the third side at any time.



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