‘Negotiating the Nonnegotiable’: Highlights from the March ACR-GNY Round

By Tamia Sutherland

The Greater New York Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution, a nonprofit organization with nine chapters nationwide dedicated to enhancing the practice and public understanding of peaceful, effective conflict resolution, held its latest monthly roundtable breakfast on the topic of negotiating in an era of discontent.

The Feb. 3 event, co-sponsored by CUNY Dispute Resolution Center at John Jay College, was attended by more 230 guests, and marked ACR-GNY’s 246th roundtable breakfast. The monthly events started soon after the 9/11 attacks to convene and build the ADR community.

The event presented keynoter Daniel Shapiro, the founder and director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program, an associate professor in psychology at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital, and an affiliate faculty member at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.  He is a frequent public speaker and author of Negotiating the Nonnegotiable (Penguin 2017), which served as his presentation’s theme.

The meeting was divided into three parts: a 30-minute networking reception, the keynote presentation, and a question-and-answer session with Shapiro.

The meeting kicked of with welcoming remarks from Maria R. Volpe, Professor of Sociology, Director of the Dispute Resolution Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and Julie Denny, a mediator in Morristown, N.J., and a board member as well as former president of ACR-GNY.

Shapiro began by highlighting some of the polarized and emotionally charged public conflict issues in the world right now, such as challenges to democracy, race relations, the pandemic, etc., which have now “entered the home.” He outlined the purpose of his presentation, which included introducing the “lures” that he identified, which he explained exacerbate conflict and make it emotionally charged.

Shapiro illustrated his point by analogy to a boat trying to make it to a sunny island while undercurrents pull the boat toward a waterfall edge. In this analogy, the boat represents the conflict resolution process, the island represents the cooperative mindset, the undercurrents represent the five lures he has identified, and the waterfall edge represents the tribal, divisive  mindset that is insular, self-righteous, and closed.

In the broader context of ADR literature, Dr. Shapiro explained that Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury, illustrates the rational way for the boat to get to the island, or a process to get to the parties to embrace a cooperative mindset rather than a divisive mindset.

Furthermore, Beyond Reason, by Roger Fisher and Dr. Shapiro, addresses the emotional dimension involved in getting the boat to this hypothetical island or getting parties in a process to embrace the cooperative mindset. Shapiro said his book, Negotiating the Nonnegotiable provides language to discuss hidden emotional dynamics and provides a lens to analyze the lack of rationality in dispute resolution processes, which are the undercurrents that typically drag parties away from engaging in a cooperative mindset while resolving a dispute.

The language Shapiro used to characterize the lures/undercurrents pulling the conflict resolution process away from a cooperative mindset and toward a tribal mindset were:

  1. “Vertigo”–becoming so consumed in a conflict that one can think about nothing else but the perpetrator, the grievance, and everything they’ve done.
  2. “Taboos”–an action, thought, or feeling that is difficult to discuss because a community deems it unacceptable.
  3. “Repetition Compulsion”–repeating the same dysfunctional pattern of behavior as a result of an addicting part of our identity.
  4. “Assault on the Sacred”–responses to an attack on the most meaningful part of one’s identity.
  5. “Identity Politics”–the process of allying with a person or group to advance a point.

To illustrate the lure of taboos, Dr. Shapiro said participants at the roundtable breakfast would be placed into break-out rooms of two with a stranger. Participants were then asked to share their (1) political affiliation, (2) salary or family net worth, (3) perception of the attractiveness of the other participant, and (4) perception of the other participant’s age.

Before Shapiro finished the instructions and ultimately let participants know that the activity would not happen, at least 10 participants dropped off the zoom call. Other participants admitted to fixing their hair, considering lying, and having general feelings of nervousness for the exercise. The participants’ actions unintentionally and clearly illustrate taboos as an undercurrent that moves individuals away from a cooperative mindset. Moreover, there was no conflict here.

Following the completion of his presentation, Dan Shapiro conducted a question-and-answer session where roundtable participants discussed in-depth questions about the lures presented.

ACR posts the program videos at https://www.acrgny.org/RTB-Videos. Information on the March Roundtable Breakfast, “Ombuds Confidential,” can be found at https://www.acrgny.org/event-4705858.

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The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021-22 intern.

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