Psychology and the Round Table Talks


  • Janusz Grzelak


Poland in 1988 was on the edge of economic, social and political collapse. The two antagonistic entities – the communist party and the government on one side and the Solidarity movement on the other - were each too weak to overcome the crisis by itself. Undertaking negotiations appeared to be the last chance to solve the crisis peacefully. There was a number of external circumstances and opportunities that supported undertaking the Talks, including Michail Gorbachev's perestroika in the East, Ronald Reagan's anti-communist policies in the West, the support of the Catholic Church and the support of the vast majority of Polish society. The whole Round Table story can be viewed as a transformation from a zero-sum game to a cooperative non zero-sum game with the solution close to a Pareto optimal solution. The processes included, among others: concentration on problems rather than people; building a mutual trust; creating the idea of the common good; and partitioning negotiations into many teams thereby creating a decision-making structure that was both hierarchical and flexible. After thirty years, both democracy and the rule of law are at stake again in Poland. Unfortunately, however, it does not seem that today’s socio-political situation is capable of fostering negotiation methods for solving the nation’s problems.