Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Book Review: Beyond Reason--Using Emotions as You Negotiate

I asked a few friends for some inputs/books that might help me better work in and negotiate the various non-profit organizations I am a member of in my free time. One thing that's became clear to me as I've joined churches, professional associations, and non-profit advocacy organizations is that every human organization includes politics. And what's politics? In my world, it's simply the social battles that play out as individuals wrangle over a group's direction and use of resources.

Now in for-profit organizations (businesses), there is a particular set of control mechanisms (ownership, management structures) that reduces certain forms of politics. Businesses also include carrots/incentives and sticks/punishments that can encourage specific behavior. If you don't do your job, for instance, you can be fired or replaced. If you do a good job, you might get a raise, a promotion, or a simple "attaboy/girl." These carrots and sticks don't exist in non-profit organizations. It is nearly impossible to "fire" someone from a committee, unless one meticulously follows Robert's Rules of Order or Church doctrine.

Having spent most of my professional life in businesses, I was unprepared for some of the challenges I've experienced in several non-profit organizations. Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate by Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro was recommended by dear friend, and I was duly grateful. Because, in the absence of the business world's usual carrots and sticks, most work being accomplished in the nonprofit world must be the product of negotiations.

Fisher and Shapiro are professional negotiators, working on labor, international, and business negotiations, which are similar in their human dynamics, regardless of specifics. Here are the "big picture" observations and recommendations from Beyond Reason:

  • Emotions are powerful, always present, and hard to handle
  • You should address the individual's concern, not the emotion
  • Express appreciation--find merit in what others thing, feel, or do--and show it
  • Build affiliation--turn an adversary into a colleague
  • Respect autonomy--expand yours and don't impinge on theirs
  • Acknowledge status--recognize high standing wherever deserved
  • Choose a fulfilling role and select the activities within it
  • Strong negative emotions can happen, be ready
  • Prepare on process, substance, and emotion

I'm not giving away a whole lot here--you can find these points in the table of contents. However, the topics listed above really caused me to go back and think about my behavior and the behavior of others in my various enterprises.

For example, I know I was guilty recently of not appreciating the merits of a particular person's viewpoints recently, and the harder I pushed my point, the harder the other individual resisted. I wasn't taking the time to listen or find the possible merit of the other's arguments. I'm not the only one guilty of such behavior. I just need to find a better way to model the behavior and get others to follow suit.

Another point where I know I've failed is in respecting another's autonomy. This can take several forms. Have you or your "faction" within an organization ever taken action without consulting others? Or, have you or your group ever excluded particular individuals from the counsels of the whole because you dislike their opinions or behavior?

Acknowledging status is a recurring problem in the advocacy business. This is because many volunteers are often actual or self-taught experts in their particular interest. Lacking official ranks in a volunteer organization, we often establish our various pecking orders through expertise in this or that field. In a room full of such experts, each individual believes that their opinion is right, not just about their particular bailywick, but on every other topic as well. Furthermore, these individuals will occasionally or often disregard another's expertise because it doesn't match their own. And note that I'm not naming names, for the sake of diplomacy, but am including myself in the mix. I don't necessarily know how to fix this problem, but acknowledging it and taking steps across an organization or community to correct it would be helpful.

Preparation is something I need to work on in my day job and free time. This means being prepared for one's audience, establishing a process for obtaining particular outcomes, and being prepared for possible emotional reactions, such as emotional behavior or personal resistance to proposals. Again, without naming names, I can only say that I've run into these roadblocks on several occasions, and have always been stymied. Beyond Reason offers several strategies and coping techniques for dealing with negative emotions, your own and others'.

I picked up this book for my particular context, but I believe it would be of value to anyone in a negotiating role, and at one time or another, that includes all of us.

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