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The Negotiator’s Fieldbook Series: ‘Unforgiven: Anger and Forgiveness’

I’m reviewing The Negotiator’s Fieldbook: The Desk Reference for the Experienced Negotiator, Christopher Honeyman & Andrea Kupfer Schneider, Editors (ABA 2006), through 2008 (it has 80 chapters, more than 700 pages of substantive text, and something for everyone, from novice to expert!). I’m reviewing the book because it’s hot, hot, hot. 

Unforgiven: Anger and Forgiveness

Ellen Waldman & Frederic Luskin

Here’s the annotation from the book’s Table of Contents:

How many negotiations are reduced to a numbers game by the unthinking responses of professional negotiators who don’t recognize what is really at stake for their clients? How many negotiators frame what “should” be achieved in the negotiation, conveniently getting around the fact that the agent can’t be paid one-third of an apology? Here, a lawyer and a psychologist together examine the evidence that forgiveness may be the single most desirable negotiation outcome in many situations, when measured by physical and mental health of those involved — but that a lockstep push toward forgiveness in
all disputes is neither possible, nor desirable. This chapter should be read in conjunction with Brown & Robbennolt on Apology.

These articles remind us that apology and forgiveness are complex concepts that should be used wisely. I’ll be reviewing Apology in Negotiation later in this series.

If the scientific research is to be believed, aggrieved disputants, even if they want to forgive, do not know how. But, forgiveness can be learned.

This article is not about learning how to forgive. Nor is it about the authors’ conclusion that forgiveness can give tangible health benefits and can have transformative effects on individuals locked in intractable conflict. Instead, it examines the success of two large-scale programs that sought to require forgiveness. Specifically, the authors examine research into the effectiveness of restorative justice programs in Rwanda following the genocide in 1994 and in South Africa after the end of apartheid. In short, they conclude that forgiveness cannot be prescribed as a universal panacea.

In each case, policy makers’ articulated assumptions were that more conciliatory approaches would be better for victims than aggressive prosecution of crimes or other compensations for abuse. [Engaging Conflicts note: it is also possible that policy makers assumed their criminal justice systems could not handle the massive number of claims they faced, and yet something comprehensive needed to be done, and this was a creative option.] The goal, as the authors put it, was “Trading Vengeance, Gaining Peace?”
Their more fully stated conclusion is:

Experiments with restorative justice responses to fractured communities suggest that victim forgiveness should only be encouraged after other tangible steps have been taken toward acknowledging victim suffering and healing the victim’s physical, psychic, and material wounds. Dispute system designs misperceive the pre-conditions to magnanimity when they assume offender truth-telling or apology will automatically trigger victim forgiveness. True forgiveness can only come from a basic foundation of security. Until victims’ basic physical and security needs are met, they cannot and should not be expected to extend grace to their enemies.

Ellen Waldman holds a law degree from New York University and an LL.M. in mental health law from the University of Virginia. She directs the mediation program at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and has spearheaded a number of grant projects relating to health care and conflict resolution. She sits on the ethics rosters of both court and community mediation centers. In the negotiation arena, Professor Waldman writes and speaks on a variety of topics, including bioethics mediation, restorative justice, dispute resolution with high conflict personalities, and therapeutic jurisprudence.

Frederic Luskin, Ph.D. is the Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects and the author of the best selling book Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. He has conducted 8 successful experiments to validate his forgiveness methodology. He also is the Co-Chair of the Garden of Forgiveness at Ground Zero Project whose goal is adding forgiveness to the menu of responses to the attacks on 9/11. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling and Health Psychology from Stanford University and is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.


Gini Nelson

Gini Nelson is a sole practitioner in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her practice emphasizes private dispute resolution, including distance dispute resolution, and domestic, bankruptcy and bankruptcy avoidance law. MORE >

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