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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Do You Use Principled Negotiation to Forward Your School Community?

I read Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Fisher and Ury. The book is challenging me to think about decision making at schools in new ways by using principled negotiation. I also see this book as a next step to the book, Intentional Interruption, which maintains that we don't spend enough time on problem analysis in schools. While Intentional Interruption points to ways we can better analyze and solve problems, Getting to Yes provides a terrific process for negotiation and decision making.

It's a new way for me to think about problem solving--one I hope to use with students and colleagues. In the paragraphs and bullets below, I offer some main ideas from the book. I recommend that you read the book to get the full understanding, and even better, this book would be a great tool to use as teaching/learning groups work together to make decisions that impact students in positive ways.

The first step to principled negotiation is to separate the people from the problem. You have to recognize that the people "have emotions, deeply held values, and different backgrounds and viewpoint; and they are unpredictable. They are prone to cognitive biases, partisan perceptions, blind spots, and leaps of illogic." and as the authors assert, "So are we."

As you consider the people, consider the authors' proposition that we should "be hard on the problem, soft on the people." The following points are some of the many emphasized by the authors:
  • ". . .the ongoing relationship is far more important than the outcome of any particular negotiation."
  • "Put yourself in their shoes."
  • "Withhold judgement. . .try on their views."
  • "Discuss each other's perceptions. . .make perceptions explicit."
  • "Listen to them and get a sense of what their emotions are."
  • "Emotions are driven by a core set of five interests: autonomy. . .appreciation. . .affiliation. . .role. . .status."
  • "Allow the other side to let off steam," tell their story and express their interests and concern.
  • "Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said." Ask for clarity with respect if needed. 
  • Build ". . .a personal and organizational relationship with the other side that can cushion each side against the knocks of negotiation."
  • "Build a working relationship."
  • "Don't react to emotional outbursts."
  • "Speak to be understood" and "speak about yourself, not about them."
The book suggests that the focus should be on underlying interests rather than each others' positions--what is it we are interested in individually and collectively. A focus on interests helps to explicitly outline the issue(s).
  • A focus on interests rather than positions makes it possible to develop a solution.
  • ". . .a close examination of the underlying interests will reveal the existence of many more interests that are shared or compatible than ones that are opposed."
  • "Shared interests and differing but complementary interests can both serve as the building blocks for a wise agreement."
  • "Realize that each side has multiple interests."
  • "Make a list to sort out the various interests of each side."
  • ". . .give your interest and reasoning first and your conclusions or proposals later."
  • Be mindful of tone, attitude, affect. 
  • ". . .know where you are going and yet be open to new ideas." ("An open mind is not an empty one.")
Once interests are shared, the next step is to create options. Too often negotiations don't work because the negotiators did not make the time to create enough options to choose from. To create abundant options, you have "to separate the act of inventing options from judging them; (2) broaden the options on the table rather than looking for a single answer; (3) search for mutual gains; and (4) invent ways to make their decisions easy."

Fisher and Ury present a format for creating options including pre-brainstorming, brainstorming, and post brainstorming actions
  • Pre-brainstorming: define purpose, choose participants (5-8), change environment, design an informal atmosphere, and choose a facilitator.
  • Brainstorming: sit side-by-side in semi-circle, introductions, ground rules (no criticism rule, no attribution, "off the record" suggested), brainstorm a long, imaginative list, and record ideas in full view. 
  • Post-Brainstorming: star the most promising ideas, invent improvements for promising ideas, set up a time to evaluate ideas and decide.
The final step is to decide on objective criteria, and it is advised that the criteria be chosen prior to roles as this ensures fairness. 

As I study this book, I can see positive implications for school work. For example, we recently wrestled with the problem of noisy halls. We took the positional negotiation route and really didn't get very far. On the other hand, the use of principled negotiation could result in the following potential:
  • We will get to hear the interests behind the conflict of noisy halls--what is it that each party is interested in. I suspect our interests will be quite similar, but I'm not sure.
  • We will create a large number of options. After reading this book, and considering the perceived interests of the participants, I've already thought of a few possible, win-win solutions that I didn't think about before. I wonder what others would come up with.
  • And with regard to objective criteria, once a solution was chosen, I can imagine us checking ourselves using the criteria to see if we're meeting the mutually agreed upon decision. 
  • The challenge with regard to this issue is making the time to solve it well and choosing a facilitator to lead the negotiation.
Another issue at play is a scheduling issue with regard to students' services. We always negotiate for the best times, but we rarely discuss interests. I hope to start our upcoming discussion by first listening to the interests of the service delivery educator--what is it that she hopes to achieve, and what's important to her in that regard. Again, I suspect my interests and her's are quite similar, but differ with regard to specific details, details that are potentially easily met in a decision that allows both of us to serve the students well. 

Getting to Yes has a lot to offer school personnel as we navigate countless negotiations with regard to the changing landscape and abundant potential that exists in education today. Have you used the strategy of principled negotiation in your education organization? If so, how has that enhanced your ability to collaborate and serve students well? I plan to continue to use this book as a guide as I navigate the teaching/learning road ahead. I'm excited about the potential this process holds for developing our school communities in positive ways.