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Beyond Reason: A Framework For Use Of Emotions In Negotiation & Mediation (Book Review)

This book by Roger Fisher and Dan Shapiro shows the versatility and brilliance of the Harvard Negotiation Project. After decades of teaching us that negotiation and also mediation is a matter of focus on “process, interests, needs and substance” we are now told that emotions have a unique and powerful influence upon the negotiation and the results of the negotiation.

Emotions are extremely hard to quantify and they are surely not rational. Emotions come, they are there; they are physiological and psychological reactions to environmental situations. These things are not just reactions to physical environment; but they are in fact, very much reactions to things that are said and ways that they make us feel. In this book, Fisher and Shapiro try to help utilize emotions in the negotiating process by giving a framework on which to base the use of emotions. The framework is simple, because there is only so much time one can invest in this monitoring and still focus on substance. Nonetheless, the model is useful and should be taken seriously.

The model is based on the negotiator or mediator having an awareness of 5 critical core concerns that are basic to all human beings. These core concerns are as follows:

1) Appreciation
2) Affiliation
3) Autonomy
4) Status
5) Role

Fisher and Shapiro take great care to define these terms not just with words, but with truly wonderful examples of how each aspect affected a real life negotiation. This thereby gives the Negotiator or Mediator a good feeling of how this framework can be utilized in practice. One of the most interesting examples of this explanation appears in the chapter on Appreciation. Fisher and Shapiro are discussing the aspect of the Negotiator or Mediator “Finding Merit” in another’s position or point of view. They say the following:

“When you strongly disagree with others, try acting like a mediator: The hardest time to find merit in another’s point of view is when you are arguing about an issue that may be personally important. Listening for merit in another’s point of view can transform the way you listen.

“To do this, try acting like an impartial mediator. A mediator works to understand each disputant’s perspective and to look for the value in it. In this role, you refrain from judging whose side is right or wrong. Instead, you try to see the merit in each side’s perspective…”

Conceptually, Fisher and Shapiro develop what they call a “Framework of Core Concerns” that allow the Negotiator/Mediator to utilize ubiquitous human feelings in ways that are constructive to agreement. In addition, the framework can operate to assist in building key rapport. It can also be used to insert positive emotional reactions from the other side into the process; assisting in creating the most positive environment for agreement.

In discussing the concept of “Affiliation” we find a most wonderful example of the experience of the Harvard Negotiation Project’s wide and varied clientele. Shapiro is discussing an incident in which he was assisting in negotiations after the Yugoslavian wars in the 1990’s. The element of trust was a virtual nonexistent entity. After a number of dismaying exchanges between the negotiators, Shapiro approached a group of Serbian MP’s and asked them “What is your best advice on how to negotiate?” Shapiro says, “In a single sentence, one MP summed up the dynamic that made things so difficult: ‘We should deceive the other side before they deceive us!’ “

Lastly, to show that they have a positive and even sometimes humorous view of the entire world and its endless possibilities, they quote two great men with words in the beginning of their chapter “On Strong Negative Emotions:”

“When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.”

Thomas Jefferson

“When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, swear.”

Mark Twain

They do not use this only as a humorous example of people having different styles; but an example of a plan for a technique to deal with irrational events. Both reactions to personal anger are legitimate, and yet they are very different. Shapiro and Fisher do not judge your method; only that it works for you and is preplanned. Planning is a true cornerstone of the Fisher method in all Negotiations or Mediations.

If the Mediator/Negotiator is attuned to these 5 core concerns and meets them with confidence and empathy, the potential for successful outcome is much greater than would be if these factors were ignored. The objective of Fisher and Shapiro’s book is truly to help the Negotiator/Mediator handle the irrational and therefore, the unexpected in a reasonable and not to elaborate manner. This book provides that structure or framework to the practitioner.


Jon Linden

Jon Linden is a Mediator, Trainer and Business Consultant. He holds an BS in biology and an MBA, both from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. Jon spent 20 years in the Food Service Distribution business, where he was the COO and Sr. V-P of a Distribution Center of a major… MORE >

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