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 ???).

One option is we prepare the assessment, we give it to the convener and the convener says great, let's go. The convener then sends a letter to everybody asking them to do what we describe; to choose representatives to come to the first meeting.

First meeting's held; two key groups aren't there. It's our responsibility, as the facilitators, and the neutrals, to go see those people and say, "What the hell happened? We thought you were going to be part of this." And they say, "We changed our mind." We ask, "Well why didn't you communicate that to anybody? What's your problem?" They respond by saying, "We're not coming if they're coming." We ask, "Well under what circumstances would it be okay for them to be present?" And they respond, "Well they can't have anymore votes at the table than we do, so if they're coming with three people, we get to come with three people." We respond, "So if they come with one, then you'll come with one?" "Yes, but we heard they were coming with three and we were only getting one and so were not coming." I said, "Well would you come to the next meeting if we could address this question at the very beginning of the meeting and if you weren't satisfied within the first fifteen minutes that the issue is addressed then you could leave. "Well we have to have the same number of people as they do." "Okay fine, you go talk to the other people and say you have to have a lead representative and your other people can watch, but only one person at the table, otherwise we can't get this other key group to come."

So we may be involved in some remedial efforts if something goes off the track. It's not a question of do it our way or else. If they don't show it's not all over, there's room to explore what's going on. Sometimes people get the wackiest notions in their head and they don't talk to anybody. So they have engaged in self-sealing, you know self-confirming behavior. So nothing happens and then we have to go talk to them. I remember one mediation I did on the citing of low-level radioactive waste facilities in the state of Maine and there was a campaign to close down all nuclear power plants. It was literally a referendum campaign and the referendum committee was invited to come to the table to talk about where the low level red waste should go from the nuclear power plant in Maine. They said, "Were not coming to that table. We don't want there to be a solution. We want to close down the damn power plant and one of our strongest arguments is there's no place to put the remaining waste." Therefore weren't coming to this thing to help to put all these other people are very concerned like you are about the risks of nuclear power, they said, "That may be but were not coming to the table."

Okay, fine. We wrote the assessment and everybody said, "Well let's go ahead without them, the hell with them." So these guys show up at the meeting and they say, "Well were not coming to the table but were not going to not be at this meeting." We respond, "Well exactly what does that mean?" They say, "Were going to watch everything that goes on." I say, "Okay, fine so sit around the back over there and if you have a question, raise your hand I'll recognize you, but don't sit at the table, I understand, fine, okay." So then everybody says, "Well they're at every meeting so as far as were concerned they're at the table. And as far as their concerned there is no way their participating in this process except that they want to be present at every meeting and they have no hesitations about raising their hand and asking to be recognized." Okay, fine, so you can be inventive to sort of respond to what goes on.