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Best-selling business authors Jim Collins and William Ury live in Boulder, Colo. and enjoy hiking the mountainous terrain together. On one excursion six years ago, Mr. Collins, author of Good to Great, asked Mr. Ury, the negotiation expert best-known for co-authoring Getting to Yes, “If you had to boil your life’s work down to just one sentence you would leave behind, what would it say?”

On their next walk, a few months later, Mr. Ury responded by crystalizing negotiations into this three-part framework: “The path to possible is to go to the balcony, build a golden bridge and engage the third side – all together, all at once.”

Simplicity, of course, sometimes needs further elaboration to be understood and implemented, which he provided Mr. Collins.

Conflict can make us small. So we need to counter that by thinking big. We need to come up with audacious possibilities for outcomes that might work for everyone.

Mr. Ury – who has been involved as an advisor in a host of hot spots, including the Middle East, Venezuela and ending the civil war in Colombia - finds if he starts with the problem the conflict presents it’s easy to get lost in its details and difficulties. Instead, he likes to start by drawing an imaginary circle of possibility around the conflict containing all the potential positive ways it could unfold. Without discounting the difficulties, he makes room for the possibility there is a way out.

The next challenge in negotiations is to get out of ourselves – the fear and anger that arises in destructive conflict. “We need to get out of the bunker and go to the balcony instead – a place of calm and perspective where we keep our eyes on the prize,” Mr. Ury told his companion. “Balcony is the first victory to achieve – a victory with ourselves.”

In destructive conflict, we dig ourselves into our positions and build walls. So again we have to do the opposite. There’s a chasm between the positions of the various parties, filled with all the reasons it’s hard to find agreement, including anxiety and fear of looking weak. We need to build a bridge – a “golden bridge,” he declares – that will allow the differing parties to walk toward each other. He calls that the second victory – a victory with the other.

Since that’s a hard job, help will be needed, which comes from the community. In destructive conflict, we tend to see just two sides, battling to win. But there is a third side: The people around us who can help – family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. “It is the surrounding community who are concerned about the conflict,” he writes in his new book, Possible. “They can step in and break up fights. They can help us calm down and go to the balcony. They can help us to build a golden bridge. The third side is the third victory to achieve – a victory with the whole.”

Media magnate Ted Rogers tried to teach his children about going to the balcony and crossing bridges by having debates at the dinner table in which they would have to switch and take the other side’s position halfway through. The idea, his daughter Melinda Rogers-Hixon told The Globe and Mail in a November 2021 interview, was to teach them to challenge their own assumptions and understand the other person’s perspective.

That training broke down spectacularly when the family became embroiled in a high-profile dispute when his son, Edward Rogers, moved to replace chief executive officer Joe Natale and after ensuing attempts to block him from two sisters, his mother and board members, fired independent directors who balked.

Globe and Mail reporter Alexandra Posadzki, whose book on the affair, Rogers v. Rogers, is both thrilling and saddening, details several attempts to build bridges including mediation by then-Toronto mayor John Tory, a family friend and former executive with the firm. But the feuding family and their supporters – many high-profile, with experience in patching over business disputes – remained in separate bunkers, as the Canadian community watched. Negotiations floundered on trust, with people who would need to work together if a settlement was found wary and divided. Safeguards were considered – possibilities that were always rejected because of lack of trust. As the family gathered for matriarch Loretta Rogers’s final hours in her battle with cancer, Ms. Posadzki notes one person was conspicuously absent: Edward Rogers.

The recent scramble to find a motion on the Palestinian situation that both the NDP and Liberals could support in Parliament was widely ridiculed for its last-minute solution and the watering down of both party’s positions. But it was a fine illustration of building bridges rather than throwing Parliamentary golden grenades. And it also exemplified the importance of community – not just internally in both parties, trying to bridge the gap between different viewpoints, but various advocacy groups that were consulted.

At the same time, it was a reminder not everyone can always be consulted in negotiations with a deadline and not everyone will agree with the result. In the telecom dispute, Edward Rogers, acting on behalf of the family trust, controlled 97.5 per cent of the voting shares, so the community of shareholders as well as customers and other interested Canadians could be and were excluded.

But Mr. Ury, whose book focuses on world and national conflicts rather than labour-union negotiations or corporate disputes, argues the third side is essential. The community has the power to swarm – to apply a critical mass of ideas and influence when parties are locked in dispute, like a swarm of birds attacking an intruder. He used to think of mediators as the third party but now sees it much more broadly, the community mediating its own dispute.

He insists the third side is not an idealistic notion but a practical one: “From win-win, we need to move to win-win-win. We need to think in terms of a third win – a win for the larger community, for the future, for our children.”


  • Gloria Mark, the University of California, Irvine professor who wrote the book on how distractions wear us down during the day, Attention Span, has been struggling with the many decisions cropping up in a renovation project. Her advice to herself (and you): If you have a really tough decision to make, you might be more likely to think more carefully about it after a break with a meal. Similarly, if you’re applying for a job, try to schedule your main interview after lunch so the interviewer might have had a nice break and a full stomach. Try to make your hardest decisions when your attention is at its peak.
  • Ottawa thought leader Shane Parrish on decisions: “It’s more advantageous to structure decisions to be easily reversible than to take too much time trying to make the perfect choice.”
  • Claire Seaborn, who served as Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s chief of staff, shared these thoughts on meetings with Politico’s Ottawa Playbook as she moves to the business law firm Torys: “On Bay Street, the currency is money, and money is time. You don’t want a lot of meetings because they take up time. In Ottawa, the currency is information. You want more meetings, because more meetings transact information.”

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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