‘Managing Conflict Mindfully’ author outlines why even experts get in their own way sometimes, and how to stop
Everybody makes mistakes. Pro baseball players get on base less than half the time at bat. Experienced lawyers make decisions that lead to them losing cases all the time. But what if there was a way to make fewer missteps? In his new book, Leonard L. Riskin, law professor and senior fellow at the Center on Negotiation, Mediation, and Restorative Justice at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law says the key to succeeding in high-pressure situations is mindfulness.
On Monday, Riskin, alongside a panel of his colleagues, shared insights from his book “Managing Conflict Mindfully: Don’t Believe Everything You Think” in a discussion hosted by Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation. Riskin, a pioneer in mindfulness practice in law, believes being aware of emotions and unhelpful thoughts and feelings help in decision-making critical to not only law, but many other professions.
“I have noticed that even people who are very well-trained in negotiation and have read everything and have a lot of experience will from time to time, really mess up a particular negotiation or mediation,” Riskin said. “And the same thing applies in almost any field … we’re also talking about any kind of a difficult situation.”
Riskin described five obstacles to mindfulness:
• Automatic or habitual ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving;
• Excessively self-centered perspectives;
• Poor management of emotions;
• Insufficient social skills;
• Inadequate management of focus or awareness.
The five obstacles, Riskin said, often interact with each other in difficult situations. To illustrate, he shared a story of a negotiation during which he started disliking one party and favoring the other. At the same time, he was worrying about what others thought of him, and whether they believed he was a capable mediator.
“So I have these voices running around in my head. Meanwhile, I’m listening to them and feeling awful about myself. And I’m not listening to the actual conversation that’s going on in the room,” Riskin said.
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