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Beyond Reason: Using Emotions As You Negotiate (Book Review)

Beyond Reason: Using Emotions As You Negotiate
By Roger Fisher And Daniel Shapiro
246 Pp. The Penguin Group

Dealing with emotions has become an inextricable part of high level negotiations in mediation. Yet few writer’s have dared to cross the chasm between the psychological underpinnings for such emotion and the strategic use of emotions in negotiation. And none as brilliantly and insightfully as Roger Fisher (author of the acclaimed “Getting to Yes”) and Daniel Shapiro.

The dynamic pairing of the director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, and perhaps the ultimate guru on strategic advice and negotiating training, Roger Fisher, with Daniel Shapiro, who not only teaches negotiation at Harvard Law School, but also teaches in the psychiatry department of Harvard Medical School is truly inspired.

Can emotions be harnessed to become an asset rather than an obstacle to negotiation? Yes, say Fisher and Shapiro, in “beyond reason”. In fact, they suggest that all parties in a negotiation not only should, but must address the emotions that are invevitable in every negotiation. The authors suggest that if the negotiators understand the emotions coming from the other side as well as their own, they can use those emotions to facilitate meeting substantive interests, thereby enhancing relationships and helping to focus on core concerns.

The elegance in the author’s analysis lies in their complete equanimity. They offer methods for addressing the concerns of all stakeholders in the negoation, including the presumably impartial mediator! The book is filled with practical advice as well as real-life examples drawn from the author’s personal experiences.

The key to reigning in emotions in negotiation, the authors postulate, is to “address the concern, not the emotion.” (p. 15). The book takes its readers through a thorough explanation of five core concerns that are masked by expressions of emotion: appreciation (or lack thereof), affiliation, autonomy (or impingement upon autonomy), status and role. The authors suggest that if the parties can step back and analyze which core concern is at stake, the emotions can be managed and even turned around for positive results.

“Beyond reason” is a simple, straightforward, yet elegant guide to managing these five identified “core concerns” and using the emotions engendered by each of the core concerns to get to resolution. (Desmond Tutu called the work “powerful, practical advice”.)

What’s more, the book is peppered with fascinating and amusing anecdotes from Fisher and Shapiro’s work as key negotiators. One of my favorites was the tale of an angry husband who insisted his physician friend admit his wife to the hospital for what he was sure was an appendicitis attack. The Doctor calmly responded by reminding the frantic late-night caller that he had removed his wife’s appendix some five years back, and a patient does not have a second appendix. The man, finally seeing the folly of his misplaced anger, shyly offered: “yes, but you a man may have a second wife! Now please meet me at the hospital.”

The final, personal account by Jamil Mahuad, Former President of Ecuador, recounting the negotiation of a fifty-year boundary dispute with Alberto Fujimori, president of Peru, was truly memorable, The history of that negoation brought home the lessons Mahuad learned by attending the negotiation courses taught by Fisher and Shapiro, as well as the lessons the reader learned in “beyond reason”. Mahuad relied upon each of the core concerns in “preparing for peace” (p. 188). He makes the point that without preparing for peace, there can be no agreement. The story ends with a touching footnote of the personal friendship developed between the two leaders, resulting in “a perfect outcome” where “process and substance walked hand in hand”. (p. 199).

Although “beyond reason” may not quite succeed in showing an iron law of avoiding a breakdown in negotiations where emotions take hold, it is surely a powerful template for preparing for emotions in hard-ball negotiations and handling the inevitable.

Fisher and Shapiro conclude with an excellent synopsis of the seven elements comprising the basic anatomy of a negotiation, together with a comprehensive glossary of terms. In the end, the authors acknowledge that they have written a practical book that is more than an intellectual exercise. If taken to heart, as emotions must be, it is “a lived experience” (p. 236) and well worth the journey.


Jan Frankel Schau

Attorney Jan Frankel Schau is a highly skilled neutral, engaged in full-time dispute resolution. Following a successful career spanning two decades in litigation, she has mediated over 700 cases for satisfied clients. Ms. Schau understands the nuances of trial and settlement practice as well as client relations and balancing the… MORE >

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