2010 HNLR Symposium: The Negotiation Within
For a reflection on The Negotiation Within, see Jonathan R. Cohen, Outer Ideas on Inner Dialogues
Symposium 2010 Recap
By A. Robert Dawes
Through the course of a normal week in your life, with whom do you negotiate most often?
You may negotiate with your roommate or significant other for the remote control, your friends and family over the time and attention you’ll be devoting to each of them, and even negotiate with your cat over the available real estate on your desk or in your lap. But upon reflection, you may also find that the person you negotiate with most often in daily life is actually yourself.
That was the point of departure for Erica Ariel Fox (HLS ’95) at Saturday’s Harvard Negotiation Law Review symposium. HNLR, the law school’s student-run negotiation and alternative dispute resolution journal, hosts a symposium every other year in which experts convene to discuss a topic related to ADR or negotiation. This year, as the first panel sat down to kick off Saturday morning’s symposium, many attendees were not sure exactly what was meant by the title, The Negotiation Within.
While HNLR symposia in previous years have mostly involved strategies for and theories about negotiating with other parties, this year’s discussion examined the interplay of negotiation theory and conflict within oneself. Through this inquiry, we might be able to apply conflict resolution strategies to help resolve the tension of an inner debate, for instance, or examine the ways in which negotiations within a person or an entity affect that conflicted party’s external negotiations with other parties.
Robert C. Bordone (HLS ’97), Director of the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program at HLS, illustrated the concept by posing a hypothetical situation to the first panel: imagine a CEO who is about to be bought out of the company he founded. At the last minute, he makes a lengthy list of new demands, effectively killing the deal. As the buyout was being finalized, his inner negotiation involved many parties, for which Leonard L. Riskin utilized the term “sub-personalities.” Among these sub-personalities might have been the CEO’s family, his employees, his community, as well as his own “CEO” mentality which wasn’t quite ready to let go of the reins of his company.
Who wins among these conflicting interests within an “individual”? Who decides among them, and how? In the context of an internal negotiation, Riskin and David Hoffman (HLS ’84) discussed some attributes of the ideal, fully aware, calm self, likening them to those of a successful mediator. Specifically, the argument goes, mindfulness – the Buddhist ideal of complete, attentive awareness – can be used to improve and streamline our inner negotiations in the same way that an attentive mediator can among multiple parties. And concomitantly, we can enhance our success in external negotiations with counterparties by clearing away ambiguities in our own interests.
Still, we are quite limited in this endeavor. Bruce Patton (HLS ’84) and Sheila Heen (HLS ’93) discussed the processes and constraints of the human mind in navigating the negotiation within. In a bold attempt to diagram the processes, Heen mapped many factors involved in an internal negotiation, including social context, perceptions, neuroscientific phenomena (such as so-called “mirror neurons” and other neurochemical processes), alongside one’s spiritual values and experience. “Who we are is a negotiation from beginning to end,” Patton explained. “It doesn’t stop.”
Later, a panel on “practical implications” looked at the outward signals of these inner conflicts. Clark Freshman discussed physical manifestations of distress, attraction, happiness, and other feelings, and demonstrated the power that comes with being able to identify them in others. Monica Meehan McNamara analyzed the interplay between one’s posture and the “choreography of internal voices.” While acknowledging the benefits of reading the body language of others, she also touched on the dangers that can arise when we understand it to be a judgment about ourselves. But “if we assume that [another person’s] reaction shows us a version of our truth,” she explained, “it is probably because some voice or truth is being invoked in us.”
Discussing current thought and research in the field, Ran Kuttner described a “wave”-like interaction in which communication flows to such an extent that it is “hard to tell where your thought ends and mine begins.” Highlighting another form of effective communication, Michael Wheeler (HLS ’74) emphasized the power of symbolic imagery to convey one’s complex web of competing feelings, and took a stand for legitimizing “action research” – reflections from practitioners’ experience in the field.
The symposium closed with a debate about the future of legal academia and pedagogy, with speakers struggling to determine the extent to which the community should retain standards favoring work utilizing scientific methods or lengthy citations over “action research.” Bordone agreed that “there is a lot to be learned from experience and reflection,” but wondered about the constraints imposed by tradition. Capping off the discussion, Riskin proposed a middle way: “You can be daring,” he said, “as long as you’re thoughtful and rigorous and analytical.”
HNLR’s 2010 symposium was all of these things, and left attendees to ponder the significance of their own semi-private negotiations within.
Originally published to HNLR Online on March 6, 2010.
Videos of the symposium panels are available for streaming here: