Consensus-Building Process

Larry Susskind

Co-Director of the Public Disputes Program, Inter-University Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

I've been the responsible neutral in well over sixty very complicated cases around the world. I mean in almost every case there is a moment when I have to decide whether to go forward and take the assignment. Then there's usually a crisis about whether we can get all the key parties to the table and figure out who they are. Then there's a moment of jubilation when we get all the key parties to agree to come to the table and convince ourselves we got the right ones. Then there's a period of great depression when it looks impossible now that everybody's there with regard to solving the problem. Then there's a moment of a gleeful high, where my God, it looks like we came up with something that's going to resolve all these disputes and we try to put it in writing. Then there's the moment of great agony when we try to put it in writing and people say, no, no, no that wasn't really what they meant anyway. Then there's either a sense of satisfaction that something good has come out of it that's allowed the people involved to feel that they moved forward with whatever the issue is. Or there's that sense of despair that all that effort has not been able to resolve whatever the difference is and you go on to the next thing. So in every one of these fifty, sixty, seventy, very complicated disputes, there's that pattern.

So the inspirational moments are those moments when you actually manage to get people who are combatants or potential combatants on some question or issue, to actually come and sit down around the table and to agree on what they're going to talk about. And how they're going to talk and get started. That's definitely a high. Whether you then generate an agreement or not, separate question.