Shuttle Diplomacy and Assisted Negotiation

Updated: Aug 7, 2019


Most conflicts are not entirely black and white. Somewhere within most disagreements lies a grey area where positions may be representing an impasse which seems insurmountable to both parties and is in fact clouding the parties view to resolving the situation and preventing them from recognizing common interests. Emotions in one or both parties can run very high and this can prevent parties from being creative and reaching acceptable agreement without some objective, and emotionally detached external assistance.

In some conflicts, direct communication between the parties is unlikely to reduce tensions, but may actually make the situation worse. A situation can be so extreme that merely seeing the other side can cause a setback. Rather than allowing for the exchange of views and producing creative solutions and acceptable compromise, direct communication sometimes result in the simple repetition of demands, which are positions, without fully exploring underlying interests, lending support to the perception of the conflict's intractability. Often, conflicted parties attempt to paint one's own side in a favorable light and to make the other side’s arguments look as bad as possible. Emotions can cloud our better judgement. Invoking adversarial legal processes can further complicate issues and restrict open communication, further entrenching the conflict, and substantially increasing the cost of a resolution.

Shuttle diplomacy, assisted negotiation or mediated communications, can be useful in these types of situations, at least in the early stages when direct communication is likely to be counterproductive. The essence of shuttle diplomacy is the use of a third party to convey information back and forth between the parties, in a non-adversarial, non-competitive and non-confrontational manner serving as a reliable means of communication which is less susceptible to the grandstanding of face-to-face or strictly legal process-based communication.

The intermediary serves not only as a relay for questions and answers, but can also provide suggestions for moving the conflict toward resolution and further, unlike court processes and outcomes, does so in private. "By keeping the communication private and indirect, the parties will not feel a need to use the debating tactics they commonly use in public conversations, and will be able to build up a level of trust that could not have been developed in those circumstances. Once this trust and a certain level of mutual understanding is developed, then face-to-face and even a routine of communications can be started."

If you are experiencing a seemingly intractable conflict and feel that third party involvement could be of assistance, please contact me in order to explore how I could be of assistance in providing shuttle diplomacy negotiation on your behalf to articulate your interests and provide an alternative to stressful, costly and time consuming litigation. This can be an effective means of reestablishing communication, and establishing trust towards a mediated, or negotiated resolution to your conflict.

Ref. Brahm, Eric and Heidi Burgess. "Shuttle Diplomacy." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, U. of Colorado, Boulder. November 2003


Stéphane Noël

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