Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, March 29, 2021
I am struggling with a few deals, people and projects where I am battling tough competitors, and finding common ground is proving difficult. It is not clear to me what I should want, which is different from what I might want, and to that end, until I find the “purpose” for the discussions, I can’t be effective. I am ready for some guidance.
Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a Zoom presentation by Daniel Shapiro, a Harvard professor who teaches negotiation. His most recent book is “Negotiating the Nonnegotiable,” and a few of his ideas are worth sharing. Shapiro’s consulting includes hostage negotiations and international border conflicts. Nothing too challenging.
I do not think my small entrepreneurial issues rise to the level of nuclear war, but why not learn from the best. The first principle Shapiro explores is “How do we perceive ourselves?” What do we think our identity is, and when it is under attack, how do we respond? The current word for the woke world is “trigger.” What triggers the conflicts we have with spouse or employee or partner?
I am deeply aware that there are certain words or events where I respond disproportionally badly. Certain buzz words cause what Shapiro calls “vertigo” in our behavior. We lose perspective, we get dizzy and we can’t see straight. Our emotional temperature rises. Hey, pal, you want to step outside and settle this man to man?
Shapiro says, “two main factors contribute to conflict, namely rationality and emotion.” Rationality is the explanation that is obvious to you: “I’m right, why can’t you see it my way?” That leads to the emotional response, which is “die and pound sand.” But it turns out that both of these responses are informed by the “identity” of my tribe, my ‘hood. And when who I am is threatened, I am not inclined to accommodate anything.
Shapiro goes further into the areas of morals, rituals, allegiances and beliefs. All of them are tied tightly to emotions. Take simple issues like the death penalty or abortion. If your tribe is aligned on one side, it will be near impossible to negotiate a middle ground. There is dead, and there is alive and when you bake in a little discussion of guilt and innocence, you can see that the middle ground is only a very small patch of grass.
Compromise is a nice concept, but how do you get there. And Shapiro tells us what we already know, but it is important to hear it again — listen. Try to listen to what is being said beneath the words that you are hearing. The third rail in certain negotiations is the idea of “taboo.” We are not going to talk about that. Off the table, nonnegotiable. But if you want to save the baby hostage from the deranged kidnapper, you may have to wade into some deep water. You may have to enter the confessional and expose hard truths about yourself in order to build trust and ultimately resolution.
One of Shapiro’s techniques is to create a “brave space,” where the two sides can talk safely and intimately, where what you say can and will not be used against you. Exactly the opposite of certain aspects of our legal system. The Miranda warning does not foster understanding or listening.
Shapiro also talks about loss and suffering. There are two possible responses. One is “understanding the pain being felt by your adversary.” I would call that empathy. And then on the other side, a “desire for revenge.” I call that the scorched-earth-burn-your-building down response. And that one usually comes with a bunch of lawyers, followed shortly thereafter by legal fees.
Shapiro suggests a model of “reconfiguring the relationship,” moving the same game pieces, but putting them in a different setting or arrangement. How many of you start reading the newspaper or magazine from the back first? It changes the perspective on the content.
Shapiro saves the best nonnegotiable idea for last, the one that challenges our humanity and our view of the world and the world beyond — forgiveness. Hey, pal, let’s have a beer and I apologize for not seeing your point of view. I think it might have been this new prescription in my glasses.
Rule No. 660
Find the purpose.