The Harvard Negotiation Project

Aug 24, 2021

You’re an executive in a company that is undergoing changes.  New products and services are on the line.  Your team has worked hard on creating a new service that you believe will have a big impact on the clients and your bottom line.  But another team in a different division is not so excited about the changes and is pushing back.  As an executive, it’s a moment in your leadership abilities to resolve the pushback and conflict that is ensuing.  

You’re an accounting clerk and have been working at the same company for 12 years.  Your department has undergone some changes.  You’re not too happy with them.  The manager seems to care and understands something needs to change in order to make the department run smoother.  The culture and morale feel heavy and some team members have quit.  You are fighting the temptation to quit but also don’t know how to have a conversation with management about the issues you see.  

Your son wants to go out on a weeknight and it’s a homework heavy week.  He makes his case that he will work hard to turn in his assignments on time and that he will be back home before curfew.  But you know that it might be tough for him to finish his AP chem homework and go to the movies that night.  You also know it’s going to take him longer to get and it will pass his curfew.  He’s been struggling as all teens do and you feel like it might be good for his morale if he goes but you’re unsure.

—-

Our personal and professional lives are fraught with small and large conflicts.  Some are very easy to work through.  Others seem to cause anger, frustration, and like the world around you is falling apart.  

The executive might be inwardly angry but doesn’t show it.  The clerk has expressed frustration but now feels demoralized that nothing is changing.  The parent has work conflicts to deal with and now also has to deal with the teenage son.

Developing and strengthening our ability to self-regulate and focus on the issue with some clarity is a major key when working through conflicts.  Some wisdom traditions call it peace-making.  I personally struggle with calling it conflict resolution because it seems like such a corporate fad these days.  But conflict is very real and if not handled well, it can impact morale and money.  

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks shares a story from his faith tradition about working through conflicts.  He’s a great writer whose work with the British empire gave him a perspective that included working with  politicians, corporate executives, and armed services leaders.  

What he found in his faith tradition stories when working through conflict was revealing:  he saw parallels with 3500 year old stories and Harvard’s Negotiation Project guidelines!  

Here is a primer on the guidelines:

Sacks, Jonathan. Lessons in Leadership

My only addition to this negotiation conflict skill is the inner work of self-regulation.  For example, doing deep breathing for me when I am angry over a conflict has helped to slow down my emotional process so that I can think through the guidelines prescribed.  Slowing down my emotional cycle helps me to de-escalate the situation within me so I can be a peacemaker.