Archive for the 'negotiation strategies' Category

Taking something back, or sharing?

March 19, 2014

There’s this spiritual story about an adolescent who really feels strongly that a grown man has stolen from her her jewels.  He feels equally convinced she has robbed him of something equally valuable, namely, something required to maintain his stature and status in the community.

So how to restore equilibrium?

There’s an attempt, which doesn’t succeed, in which he returns something and she returns something, but they both accuse the other of returning a false approximation of what was stolen.

There are attempts at partial returns, there are empty promises, there are claims nothing was stolen — lots of adversarial attempts to restore without actually completely participating.

In the meantime, they are each using some “ill-gotten gain” from the other to try to maintain themselves.  They each end up in situations in which they are ill-equipped in some way, and this does not serve the greater good, either.

A lot of the trouble reconciling was probably a trust issue — “If I give to you, will you really give to me or will it just be throwing good money after bad, as they say?”

So here’s how it got resolved:  they both were agreeable with sharing with a disinterested third party, and through something like the mathematical transitive principle or something like a concept of mixing cooking ingredients, eventually they both ended up with a portion of what they felt they were missing.  What they shared with the intermediary included the “stolen good,” and through sharing with the intermediary, they had access again to what they considered the good stolen by the other.

Footnote:  disinterested third party did not have an easy time of it, as they were often treated as if they were actually the other person in the dispute.

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Group dynamics

November 8, 2012

When interactions between or among individuals who need to be working for a common good bog down, they can take a step back and work on process.  Twelve-step groups sometimes take a “group inventory,” families sometimes seek counseling, sports teams might have some sort of meeting, musical groups and businesses, too.  Here’s my question:  why doesn’t Congress?  Roger Fisher is deceased, but there are others well versed in teaching people to negotiate productively.  I’m sure Congress could find a couple of figures they could agree on to co-chair some sort of house-cleaning of the two chambers.  Being dysfunctional may feel good from the inside, but it just looks unnecessary and self-indulgent from the point of view of (many) observers.  Maybe these folks can’t distinguish between positive attention and negative attention, but I would have thought they’d like to be thought of as a Congress that did its job effectively.  I hope they don’t think that because they are “Members of Congress,” they are not vulnerable to the same human weaknesses that can result in unproductive behaviors in any group situation.

Small talk

August 20, 2012

Late last night I had another iteration of a pattern that goes back a very long time for me, at least until I was a pre-schooler.  It has to do with warming up to present a need of mine to someone I think can meet it.  It occurs when I don’t bring up the need directly, because I’m pretty sure I’d get a negative reaction, so I start with something akin to small talk, in an effort to start a dialogue, so I can see how to negotiate and modify my request before I present it.

What I’ve found is that it often doesn’t work.  The other person sticks to their own agenda and doesn’t take my responses as a prompt for a discussion, the other person dismisses me enough so that I go away without ever getting anywhere near communicating what I need, etc.  As a pre-schooler, I once ended up with chocolate milk poured over my head.  This time it was just what felt like a dismissive email.

I’ve tried the direct approach in other situations, and that hasn’t worked either.  It usually results in an empty promise, I suspect to make me feel better in the moment and with no regard to how I’ll feel later.

Maybe I tend to zig when I should zag — maybe I use indirection with those with whom a direct approach is needed.  But I suspect the real lesson has something to do with why these people will never meet whatever need it is I think I have, regardless of how I reveal it, and what I am to make of that.

Talking the Republicans down off the bridge

September 2, 2011

Maybe I should try to clarify my approach to dealing with ideas from others that seem to me to be likely to cause damage.

I try to resist approaches that seem to me to be likely to tighten the knot and the tangled mess, and to try approaches that seem to insert some breathing space between the people involved.

Here’s an example of something that worked for me yesterday.  There was a resolution we were about to vote on, and there was a lot of momentum to pass it, that seemed to me likely to replace one problem with a new one.  So, I pointed out what I thought were facts that indicated that the perception that there was a problem to begin with exceeded the evidence, and what a likely negative consequence of the proposed response would be, and I suggested another way of addressing the behavior, one that addresses the real issue that produces the undesirable behavior when it does arise, instead of trying to shove it underneath a rug.  And we ended up tabling the motion for the initially proposed response, agreeing to revisit the issue in a month, and in the meantime draft some specific compromise language to vote on then.  And it was clear to me that laying out contraindications and an alternate route had been much more effective than if I had objected to the idea directly.

So, with the Republicans, I don’t mind the hostage-taker analogy, but again, I think the idea is to talk them down from their positions.  I would segue to a suicide analogy in order to promote a little more neutrality, if not compassion, towards the persons involved.

So, I would try to engage in a conversation that opens up space between the parties, the way wrestling referees have the wrestlers reconfigure themselves and restart the proceedings (if I remember what happens in a wrestling match from when I used to watch them in high school), when things get stalled in a deadly embrace (I think I’m misusing the term).  And I would try to assume that people are actually doing their best, and if it seems to us none too good, then that’s an indication of their “special needs,” if I can borrow a concept from the realm of special education.  Sometimes we don’t know why someone has a seemingly perverse response to something, but if we trace back the “why,” we may help them resolve what’s impeding their responding in a healthier way and help facilitate a new response.