BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Managing emotions within negotiations ...

I've had this one sitting around for quite a while. I'd attended parts of the Ayn Rand Institute's conference down at the Hyatt Regency a few years back (it could have been as long ago as 2010, can't remember or dig up an identifiable reference for it), and at one of the receptions I was chatting with a guy who was highly recommending this book. I jotted down a note on it, and ended up ordering a used copy, which sat in my to-be-read piles for years. As is frequently the case in my selections of what I'm going to read next, this sort of suggested itself as being sufficiently different from what I'd been reading (and the other options in those piles) that it got picked.

This goes to point out that I didn't have any particular expectation or agenda going into Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro's Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate, which was probably a good thing, as when I took a look at the Amazon reviews (yeah, I know, “bad form!”), a lot of people in the actual target audience for this were sort of dismissing it as too basic, or not presenting anything new. As I wasn't in the audience for this (which I take to be people who are frequently in situations where they're having to do high-stakes negotiations), and so didn't have much background information with which to contrast it, I found it fairly interesting. At the end of the first chapter there's a section which pretty much sets up the book:
This book offers negotiators – and that means everyone – a powerful framework for dealing with emotions. Whether or not you acknowledge emotions, they will have an impact on your negotiation. As the following chapters suggest, you can avoid reacting to scores of constantly changing emotions and turn your attention to five core concerns that are responsible for many, if not most, emotions in a negotiation. These core concerns lie at the heart of many emotional challenges when you negotiate. Rather than feeling powerless in the face of emotions, you will be able to stimulate positive emotions and overcome negative ones.
Do you think they mentioned negotiation enough times in that paragraph? Yeah, me too … which is sort of the downside here, rather that presenting what would have been a somewhat more interesting (OK, to me at least) over-all survey of the “Five Core Concerns” structure (which is the really valuable part of this), they're constantly re-focusing this as a “serious business book” … which, I suppose, is a minor quibble for what is, obviously, intending to be a serious business book, but, still … it's like they're verging on the “doth protest too much” territory with that.

Anyway, let's cut to the chase … the Five Core Concerns (they don't typically capitalize the phrase, but as it's the pith of the book, I'm going with that). Discussion of these in sequence takes up about half the length of the book (which is in five sections, with various chapters or other elements in them, these coming in the second section bearing the somewhat “huh?” title “Take The Initiative”). The Five Core Concerns are:
  • Appreciation

  • Affiliation

  • Autonomy

  • Status

  • Role
These are defined at the outset:
Core concerns are human wants that are important to almost everyone in virtually every negotiation. They are often unspoken but are no less real than our tangible interests. … Core concerns offer you a powerful framework to deal with emotions without getting overwhelmed by them.
I'm going to try to convey the essence of each of these concerns here, but extracting this might be a bit uneven, as the structure of the chapters on each tend to be a bit rambling. The authors are, evidently, experienced negotiators, and dip into their histories quite a bit here … perhaps to the detriment of clarity. Rather than, say, discussing a “negotiation” that one of them had with a wood carver for a souvenir when he “was in Tbilisi, working with South Ossetians and the government of Georgia (a former Soviet republic)”, they could have presented a scenario less rife with cultural baggage that would be more direct in transmitting the dynamics involved (which in the story presented, makes the teller sound awfully smarmy). Frankly, the “situational name-checking” involved in many of the “personal examples” outlined here have that “humble brag” vibe to them … yes, they're personal experiences, but it sounds like they're in there more to highlight the authors expertise than to present the clearest possible framing of the specific negotiation issue … or I may just be cranky.

The first of these is “Appreciation”, which is presented as having three elements: “to understand each other's point of view”, “to find merit in what each of us thinks, feels, or does”, and “to communicate our understanding through words and actions”. Illustrative scenarios here include making arguments in front of the Supreme Court (no doubt useful for the next time you find yourself having to do that), and doing negotiation workshops in Macedonia during the Kosovo conflict … along with other scenarios illustrating various points related to the central concept. Maybe it's my “allergy” to parables or teaching stories, but I kept wanting them to get to the key ideas, and a lot of that is buried in these reminiscences … although, they do eventually set up specific suggestions and guidelines for applying the concepts within one's own negotiation situations.

Next comes “Affiliation”, which is pretty basic on the broad strokes – developing connections which will make working together easier. The stories here are all over the place, from working with Serbian Parliament members to negotiations between the South African government and the ANC, to attempts (unsuccessful) to get corporate and union representatives to sit interspersed at a large round table rather than on opposing sides of a long rectangle. The affiliation dynamics break down into two basic categories, “Structural Connections” – links one has “with someone else based on your common membership in a group” (age, rank, family, background, religion, hobbies, etc.), and “Personal Connections” – “personal ties that bond you with another” (they present a table of “Affiliation-enhancing Subjects That Reduce Emotional Distance” vs. “Safe Conversation Subjects That Maintain Emotional Distance”, such as “personal opinions about politics” vs. “favorite TV programs” … although this one is pretty touchy in my experience, and as likely to cause a total communication break-down as to minimize emotional distance!).

“Autonomy” follows this (and I sort of wished they'd quoted the Buzzcock's song by that title, whose lyric “I, I want you, autonomy” would have fit in quite well here!), and has two primary elements, “expanding your own autonomy” and “avoid impinging upon the other person's autonomy”. This has an interesting story where one of the authors had been contacted by the Carter White House to be a back-channel negotiator with the head of the Iranian Islamic Republican Party during the Tehran embassy crisis in 1979, which included him finding a basis to argue for cessations of sanctions, a key point on the Iranian's side. One of the factors in this is what they call “Joint Brainstorming” for which they have a five-point plan of action that could be implemented in various situations. They also present what is called the “I-C-N Bucket System” for determining the “right” amount of autonomy in a given setting. These are: I for Inform, where one feels it is appropriate to decide on something and simply inform other parties of the decision, then C for Consult, then decide, where it's important to get other parties' feedback before making a decision, and finally, N for Negotiate joint agreement, where the eventual decision needs to have all involved parties on board.

The next Core Concern is “acknowledging Status”, which has a wide range of particular applications, including “be aware of social status”, “be courteous to everyone”, “look for each person's areas of particular status”, “give weight to opinions where deserved”, and “beware of status spillover”. An example given here was of a patient in a hospital almost dying because the doctor wasn't interested in hearing what a nurse had to report – he was unwilling to realize that the nurse had more case information on the patient that he did, and acted on his assumptions, not on the reality she was trying to convey to him. The “spillover” concept is familiar from commercials – an actor who plays a role on TV is often tapped to appear as an expert on the subject to pitch products.

Lastly there is the topic of “Role” … a fulfilling Role has three key qualities: it has a clear purpose, it is personally meaningful, and it is not a pretense. They have a table of “conventional roles” which is primarily job descriptions (“travel agent”) and relationships (“grandparent”). They also offer a four-point approach to “shape your conventional role”, which involve naming the role, analyzing the activities involved in that role, adding activities to make it more fulfilling, and deleting the more unfulfilling activities. There are also “temporary roles” which one “chooses to play” – such as “problem solver”, “competitor”, or even “joker”.

The section following the Core Concerns looks at ways to deal with “strong negative emotions”, including a framework for gauging your and others' “emotional temperature”, and having plans to deal with highly-charged emotional situations. There are some very uncomfortable example scenarios sketched out here, plus a four-part plan for moving to more calmer discussions. Next comes a chapter on preparation, including a table on “using seven elements to prepare”. There is also the suggestion of reviewing every negotiation and classifying things as “WW” – “worked well”, or “DD” – “do differently” … and a recommendation to chart out how things unfolded regarding Core Concerns, with a list of specific questions to consider for each.

The book (almost) ends with an odd, but interesting piece written by the former President of Ecuador, Jamil Mahuad, dealing with his negotiations with Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori over a border dispute that had been simmering (and occasionally flaring into open conflict) for over 50 years. Mahuad had taken negotiation courses with the authors and used the approaches outlined in the book to help work out a mutually acceptable solution. Following this there is a 2-page “section” of a Conclusion, followed by another section called “End Matter”, which includes a re-stating of the “Seven Elements of Negotiation”, a brief “Glossary” (more re-framing of the key elements), and a very interesting “Works Consulted” piece, which, rather than just listing a bibliography, is a walk through various concepts involved in the book, and other resources that relate to them … including this bit (in discussing The Handbook of Cognition and Emotion and the work of Paul Ekman):
… in Beyond Reason, we have chosen to focus on five core concerns. One need not analyze which of the various emotions the other person is feeling, nor their causes, in order to use the core concerns to enlist positive emotions. Rather than focusing on dozens of emotions, a negotiator can take action with five core concerns.
Beyond Reason is still in print in the paperback edition, and so should be obtainable from your local brick-and-mortar book vendor, but the on-line big boys predictably have it at a fairly substantial discount, and “very good” copies of the hardcover (which is what I have) can be had for a penny (plus $3.99 shipping), if you want to go that way.

While a lot of the material here is quite interesting, from a psychological perspective, I would have much preferred the book had that been its thrust … having this more set in the boardroom made it consistently “less relevant” to me … and I'm guessing that would be the case for most readers. It's certainly worth the read … but it involves a lot of mental gymnastics to try to filter out the parts that one could use in one's own life from the high-level international or organizational examples which serve as illustrations of these concepts here.

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Tags: book review
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