On Negotiating

I thought this was an insightful and interesting piece on negotiation and the views of it from outside the negotiating room (which often affect what goes on inside).

I want here to look at what universities can learn from legislative paralysis, particularly the gridlock stymieing Washington. I start from the assumption that universities, more than most organizations, emphasize achieving consensus in decisions. At times, many of us in academe take pride in our commitment to consensus-based decision making, aligning it with such positive values as involving people in the decisions that affect them and favoring persuasion over coercion. At other times, however, even the most forceful advocates of consensus-based decision-making, among whom I count myself, get impatient. Our frustration leads to familiar complaints about herding cats, never getting another accomplished, and enduring interminable meetings that only complicate problems instead of resolving them.

Our commitment to consensus waxes and wanes for many reasons but primarily because we are ambivalent about compromise. Compromise is almost always essential to achieving consensus in higher education. A proposed major change in a university – for example, a revision in the academic calendar or curriculum – typically attracts a core of supporters and an equally vocal group of naysayers. Between these extremes lies a not yet committed, more or less curious group, sometimes a majority of faculty members, who need to be brought along if the proposal is going to succeed. I say “succeed” rather than “pass” because without sufficient support, even a proposal approved by the majority can still be sabotaged or at least stalled. Tenured faculty opponents of the change can continue their dissent with impunity. Lukewarm faculty members can maintain their disengagement, refusing to staff key committees that may be necessary to implementing the change. Although unanimity is neither essential nor realistic, sufficient consensus, not just a majority vote, is crucial.

I particularly liked this paragraph:

Listening is especially important to fostering constructive conversations. When people feel unheard, they clam up or shout. It is hard to listen to someone else when we ourselves feel unacknowledged, when we are stewing over our own bottled up thoughts and feelings instead of expressing them to a responsive audience. The best university leaders show how we all can move from monologues – venting to friends, lecturing to subordinates, complaining to a spouse or partner – into learning conversations with the very people we want to avoid.

There are other good ones, too. Read the rest HERE.