My colleague and podcast co-host, Gordon White, and I have had the privilege of interviewing many guests, asking them questions about conflict.  One of our favourite questions is about how to motivate people to come to the table.

Our most recent guest, Dr. Ben Hoffman, knows a lot about that.  He has spent a major part of his career engaging with the “bad guys.”  People he’s had to negotiate with include prisoners, hostage-takers, abusers of women, and even Joseph Kony himself.

Hoffman definitely has experience with a lot of power-over tactics.

So, getting the “bad guys” to the table has to be one of the most important questions and Dr. Hoffman is someone to ask!

His answer to the question of how to motivate such people to negotiate surprised me.

Essentially, he said most people who wield power, will not want to come to the negotiating table.  When I heard him say that, it made sense to me.  Perhaps it does to you too?

What is the motivation to settle, when it appears you have the upper hand and you have operated with a “win” (or “win-lose”) paradigm?  None!

So what are we to do?

Hoffman made some clear suggestions, including relying on our elders and others who have influence with the powerful, to be the levers that cause the powerful to come to the table.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to go to dinner with a prominent Mexico City environmentalist, who had his own radio show and a high media profile in Mexico City.  At the dinner was someone who used to own garbage barges, moving them from port to port.  It was an unseemly business and controversial.  One time, this man told us, his garbage barges were in the news and his granddaughter looked up from her playing to the TV.  She was concerned about the story and started to cry.  That momentary incident ended up being the catalyst for this person to get out of the garbage barge business – seeing himself through his granddaughter’s eyes.

This man’s turning of heart resulted in other impacts. He became over time an ardent environmentalist, befriending my radio host friend and having a hand in stopping the possibility of the Rio Grande being used as a garbage dump area.

That’s one example of influencing a powerful person to re-think his perspective.

Listen to the full Ben Hoffman interview here.