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Guest Blogger 09- Noam Ebner On The Second Generation Negotiation Conference

Please enjoy the following submission as the third installment of the 2009 Guest Blogger series.

Today’s guest blogger is Noam Ebner, Assistant Professor and Online Program Chair, Werner Institute for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution, Creighton University School of Law. You can read more about him [here].

It’s not every day that you get to see a discipline in motion. Changes in the way that academics and professional practitioners grasp themselves and what they do are usually minor and incremental; by the time major change has evolved, many of the original instigators are no longer around to enjoy it.

Watching a field collectively consider itself and begin to move, therefore, is like observing a rare natural occurrence, Or, perhaps, like being on a glacier as it shifts. You feel very fortunate to have been there to see it, and you wonder where you are now and how you make your way home.

These were some of the thoughts I had while attending the Second Generation Negotiation conference which took place on October 14-17, 2009 in Istanbul. To understand just what this special conference was about, one needs to put it in the context of the project surrounding it.

While negotiation theory is being constantly developed, one gets the opposite feeling regarding negotiation teaching, particularly at the level of negotiation training. Take any 1-2 day training conducted all over the world, by US or non-US teachers, in corporate settings, open enrollment programs or community contexts, and you will find a great deal of similarity – not only in the content delivered, but in the teaching methods used and the actual exercises that students partake in.

The living spirits behind the 2nd Generation Negotiation Project, Chris Honeyman, Jim Coben and Giuseppe DePalo, set out to explore and address this issue by bringing a large a group of negotiation pedagogy experts to bear on it. Supported by Hamline University’s Dispute Resolution Institute, the JAMS Foundation and ADR Center in Rome, they envisioned and set up a three year project with two primary products: 3 negotiation pedagogy conferences, held in Istanbul, Rome, and Beijing, and 3 books, or editions of a book, one to come out of each conference in an attempt to capture and develop the insights gained at each of them.

At the project’s first conference in Rome, participants observed a standard, run of-the-mill, negotiation training course being given to lawyers and businessman. As a participant, I was presented with a relatively simple question: ‘Here is a ‘first generation’ training, which you have all conducted many times. Given everything you know about negotiation and about teaching – is this what we should all be doing? Are we giving students what we should? Are we giving them all we can? And, if not – what do we need to change, in content and in pedagogy?’

The group – which was comprised of some of the top negotiation and ADR professors in the North American and Europe (with a handful of other countries also in the mix – Israel, China, and Australia come to mind) as well as of some of the most prolific negotiation trainers in the game – responded to these questions with a tidal wave of enthusiasm, as if they had been waiting for years to be asked just that. The beauty of the conference was the realization that we had all been looking for ways to evolve – individually and as a field – and that here was an opportunity for doing so. The output of that conference was a book, Rethinking Negotiation Teaching: Innovations for Context and Culture, which is replete with new ideas as well as with cross-national and cross-culture collaborations that would never have been possible without this program. More about this unique book, and the questions it seeks to raise and address, can be learned by reading the first chapter. Another output was a special volume of Negotiation Journal, dedicated to the same theme as the conference and comprised of articles written by conference participants.

A year and a half later – last week – we got together for the second phase of the project, the Istanbul conference. One thing that immediately stood out was that the group had expanded and diversified, with representatives from more countries participating. The second was that participants already knew the drill – and came to Istanbul with ideas for collaboration and writing that they had been stocking up on in the months that had passed since the previous book came out.

However, not wanting to let us get stuck in a rut, and practicing quite a bit of what we had all been preaching, the organizers threw participants a curve (well, we actually knew about it ahead of time, and were looking forward to it) by providing a new framework and methodology for the conference. This time, in addition to a training course for Turkish businesspeople and lawyers conducted by Ken Fox and Manon Schonewille, which incorporated some of the new ideas developed in Rome (referred to as Negotiation 2.0 ideas or elements), the conference itself went on the road, spending relatively little time inside the conference hall. Different methods, generally dubbed ‘adventure learning’, were used as new tools to learn about negotiation: The first was accompanying, interviewing and observing local businesspeople in action, exposing ourselves to their context of commerce and relationships as they shared their views on business, ethics and negotiation with us.

Another important part of the conference were short teaching units, in which participants presented ‘new’ teaching units developed as a result of, or through the perspective of, Negotiation 2.0 as it was conceptualized in the Rome conference and in Rethinking Negotiation Teaching. The participants taking part in each learning unit first simulated being ‘students’, learning the new content, and then transformed back to being teachers – providing feedback, critique and suggestions on content and methods.

For example, in response to the role of gender being spotlighted as a central theme emerging in Negotiation 2.0, Sandra Cheldelin and Andrea Schneider gave a unit on Gender Bias and Stereotyping. Mario Patera gave a unit expanding negotiators’ Emotional Vocabulary. Perhaps directing us eastwards towards the next conference venue, Andrew Lee and Vivian Feng Ying Yu introduced the role of cultural symbols by showing how the words or symbols used in a given culture for depicting negotiation terms affect the way negotiation is grasped and practiced within that culture. I joined these brave presenters (I say brave, as before the conference I had a mental picture of all of these people putting bulls-eyes on their chests and walking into the room to invite all of their peers to throw pedagogical darts at them. In practice, of course, it was a wonderful, enlightening experience!) in discussing E-mail Negotiation – what students need to know about it, and how we might teach it.

Towards the end of this wonderfully orchestrated mixture of novel experiential learning and classroom exposure to the first intentionally crafted elements of Negotiation 2.0, we got down to business. Themes for writing were explored, and as people discovered shared research interests with each other, partnerships were formed. Given the nature of the conference, many of these partnerships are multi-national and multi-disciplinary – promising some fascinating new perspectives.

If I thought I may have overcommitted by promising Jeff I’d blog on the conference, that can’t hold a candle to the writing commitments many of the participants took on themselves! This unique coming-together of people and ideas and opportunities was just too good to pass up.

In addition to theoretical pieces, the organizers are hoping that participants will also suggest and provide what might be called ‘operationalizing pieces’ – class activities, teachers’ guides, simulation-games, etc. – which will help make these ideas accessible to trainers looking to implement Negotiation 2.0 in the classroom. Yael Efron and I developed, field-tested and wrote up one of these pieces on the way home (it’s amazing how much you can accomplish, when your flight gets delayed and you’re stuck in the airport lounge…): A guide for trainers on how they can use the road to the training venue – whether down the block or on the other side of the world – as an adventure learning environment in which they can conduct exercises aimed at getting themselves in the right frame of mind before entering the training room.

Hopefully we’ll be seeing some of the outputs of this conference in the next few months (I’ve only scratched the surface in describing what some of these outputs may be!) and the new volume/edition in about a year. I think that when it comes out – negotiation teaching will begin to change in a very fundamental way.

I think this blog has gone on long enough – I don’t want it to run on into my trip to the final activity of this project – the May 2011 conference in Beijing. Thanks for having me, Jeff and everyone, and I’ll keep you posted!


Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School… MORE >

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