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Aesthetics in Negotiation:
Part One—Four Elements
Nadja Alexander & Michelle LeBaron
Editors’ Note: At least in the West, negotiators have mostly assumed that the arts have little or nothing to do with their work. Not so, say the neuroscientists, in increasingly persuasive recent work. Here, the authors review that research, and place it in context of ancient wisdom. They draw a line through the classicists’ four elements—earth, water, air and fire—and relate each concept to the heart and mind of negotiators. It turns out that aesthetics are a clue to much that’s going on at the back of our counterparts’ minds, and our own. We will negotiate better if we take due account of the wisdom they offer. This chapter should be read in conjunction with the same authors’ Part Two, in which they argue for a contemporary negotiation application of the ancient concept of alchemy.
From Sun Tzu’s Art of War to Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes, negotiation advice is widely available. Each publication offers a window on the subject, drawing from particular theories of human nature and change. They serve a variety of ends and address a number of possible avenues to improving negotiation that vary according to context, culture and discipline. The publications explain strategy, structure and skills; they promise efficiency, effectiveness or success. What they do not provide is insight into the essential roles that beauty and nature—aesthetic elements—play in negotiation. Overlooked through lenses that accent utility and orderliness, beauty and natural metaphors introduce a range of sensual, embodied ways that our human thirst for belonging and for feeling moved is implicated in negotiation. When these ideas are introduced to the corpus of work on negotiation, the importance of intuition and relational capacities comes into focus. Negotiation becomes more vivid and compelling; fields of possibility appear that were unavailable via more analytic ways of imagining negotiation processes.
Throughout this chapter, we tap into a significant 21st century vein of scientific, philosophical and aesthetic work that underlines ways we are all interconnected, portraying humans as porous beings with the ability for agency and mutual, multidirectional influence. What we previously believed as real—Cartesian duality of mind and body and separateness between individuals and objects—is a fast-fading myth. (Damasio 1994; BenZion 2010) This significant shift in thinking has profound implications for our approach to negotiation.
We follow a discussion of aesthetics and beauty with an exploration of how four elements—earth, water, air and fire—can assist with the project of expanding our effectiveness as negotiators. We examine how these elements help us to better build awareness—of ourselves, of other negotiators and of the context within which negotiation interactions unfold. By developing greater awareness of beauty and nature, negotiators can better navigate the emergent and complex nature of the negotiation process itself.
Art as Vehicle for Aesthetic Engagement in Negotiation
One place that beauty and nature come together is through art. Art in its many forms is essentially about encounter. As Victor Hugo wrote about music, art expresses that which cannot be said and about which it is impossible to be silent. As a form of aesthetic engagement, art embraces and stimulates senses and perceptions beyond cognitive analysis. Arts practices activate our complementary capacities for seeing beyond the visible, hearing beyond words and touching both the formless fears and inspiring possibilities that constitute figure and ground in negotiation. To the extent that negotiation writing draws on dated scientific frames, it....
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