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Literature and the Teaching of Negotiation
Editors’ Note: The author, a veteran teacher of the field, found himself wondering how to address the subtler concepts necessary to teach an advanced course, in ways that would get students to think more deeply about the possibilities and limitations of their work. He discovered that literature provided a potential answer. Here, Matz discusses more than a dozen books and other writings he has found particularly insightful in teaching negotiation, and shows how each contributes to a rounded view of what negotiation can and cannot do.
Thirteen Days in September, by Lawrence Wright, (2014) is a magnificent book. Also troubling. It is magnificent in the way it dramatizes the clash of histories in the negotiation at Camp David in 1978. The drama featured three strong-willed leaders: Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin. The three produced an agreement between Israel and Egypt that has stayed stable for over 35 years despite hurricane-strength forces in the region. Wright’s is the fullest, even the deepest, account of what “really” happened in this much-studied negotiation. It is also a model for how to write about any negotiation.1
The book is troubling because it is dominated by dynamics which the conflict resolution literature mostly ignores. These dynamics were crucial to the existence of the negotiation, to the impasse that defined most of it, to its breakthroughs, and to the agreement it finally reached. These dynamics were driven by will-power, by a commitment to honor, by the temptations and pitfalls of courage, by vivid memories, by the fear of failure, by lifelong habits of struggle with menacing enemies, by perceptions of politics infused with violence, by the feelings that go with the exercise of power and the pains of frustration, and by the mystery at the heart of much negotiating: what can change one’s own mind, and what can change the mind of the Other. Wright’s book suggests that these feelings are not just background to the negotiation. They are the negotiation. They are what drive the negotiators. Enacting these feelings is what negotiators do.
Both the strength of this book and its troubling implications drew my attention while I was engaged in a several-year project to design and teach an advanced negotiation course. How does advanced relate to introductory? Is there content to the idea that it is “advanced,” as distinguished from being just “more?” This essay focuses on the reasoning I have been using to answer these questions, and describes the structure and readings I am working with now.
Wright’s book has had two kinds of impact on my thinking. First it has made me wonder why so little of the conflict resolution literature seems relevant to what he describes at Camp David. More on that below. Second, I have realized that although the book takes the form of a heavily documented work of history, it had the effect on me that literary art does. It gave me an understanding of how Camp David felt to the major players. The book focuses on what these players brought to the process, how the players and their different histories interacted, and what those interactions felt like to the players. It gave me a feeling for the players’ sense of possibility, and for the way in which this changed through the process. It is the experience of being a negotiator that Wright captures, and it is his art to make the reader feel that experience. Halfway through the book, therefore, I was only mildly surprised to learn that, before he wrote the book, Wright had already written a play about the same topic (Camp David 2014).
The book helped focus for me the question: Might there be other artists whose work would illuminate the negotiating process in ways that our usual hortatory and empirical approaches do not? Might there be important aspects of negotiating that we have been missing in our teaching which literary approaches might make accessible for students? Novels, stories, plays, and poems specialize in opening experience to the reader and providing an emotional understanding. The basic point, that fiction enhances empathy, will of course be old news to any reader of novels. Indeed, there is also a body of experimental work that tries to give fiction-induced empathy an identifiable shape. Mar and Oatley (2008) have summarized that research and begun to elaborate a theory. “Literary narratives…offer models or simulations of the social world via abstraction, simplification and compression. Narrative fiction also creates a deep and immersive simulative experience of social interactions for readers. This simulation facilitates the communication and understanding of social information and makes it more compelling, achieving a form of learning through experience. (This can) facilitate the understanding of others who are different from ourselves and can augment our capacity for empathy and social inference.” (Mar and Oately 2008: 173)....
For full contents please purchase The Negotiator’s Desk Reference.
Armantrout, R. 1947. Negotiations.
Blessing, L. 1988. A Walk in the Woods. Dramatists Play Service.
Camus, A. 1989. The Stranger, translated by M. Ward. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Dickinson, E. 1891. Hope is the thing with feathers.
Goodman, A. 2014. Apple Cake. In The New Yorker: 74-81.
Grossman, G. 2008. To the End of the Land. Tel Aviv: Publishing House.
Hicks, D. 2011. Dignity, The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Hoffman, D. A. 2011. Mediation, Multiple Minds, and Managing the Negotiation Within. Harvard Negotiation Law Review 16: 297-328.
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Miller, A. 1949. The Death of a Salesman. New York.
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Raiffa, H. 1985. The Art and Science of Negotiation, revised edn. Boston: Harvard University Press.
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Shakespeare. 1603. Hamlet.
Stern, S. 2005. The Week the World Stood Still. Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA.
The Missiles of October. Directed by Anthony Page. 1974. Los Angeles, CA: Viacom Productions.
Thompson, L. L. 2011. The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, 5th edn. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
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Wright, L. 2014. Camp David. (Unpublished).
Wright, L. 2014. Thirteen Days in September: The Dramatic Story of the Struggle for Peace. New York: Knopf Doubleday.