Negotiating beyond what is known.

"We're all just walking each other home," Ram Dass wrote in 2013.  To this day I come back to this sentence, especially when nearing the sharp edge of relationship, when walking into situations with decisions at stake, when entering meeting rooms virtual or otherwise. What if I were to enter these spaces with the simplicity and purity of Ram Dass's statement? What then?  

Let's be clear: In almost any encounter, we humans must negotiate around each other. We rely on each other to meet our needs. We have learned the advantages and skills around trade-offs and trades, in jest and otherwise. We want to emerge from conversations better than before. We want a win. 

Winning, however, is a problematic thought. In the thought itself whispers a voice of threat. Take formal negotiations, business as usual. We want something that someone else has. The possibility of winning highlights the importance of tactics, the potential of loss, not getting what we want. We come in with impeccable preparation, skill, mind resiliency. And what happens? A separateness. We becomes me versus you. Strategy risks drifting into manipulation. Things may turn un-easy. As if we are forgetting something essential, like walking each other home.

Is it possible that we are limiting ourselves through this set-up? It is possible that when we drop the thought of winning, we might just drop into the strength of pure relationship. What if in the space of relationship we hold the intent to create something that is greater than what either of us could have or accomplish alone? What if we shift from negotiation to co-creation? What if there is only us meeting us?

credit: Fré Sonneveld |

credit: Fré Sonneveld |

We humans are negotiators because we are interdependent. We live in a world of relationships and an interrelatedness of all things.  Professor Alain Lempereur speaks of a responsible negotiation process, where connection between people comes first and effective problem solving is next, where sustainable coexistence is key.

The roots of the word negotiation trace to the Latin negotium, from neg, "not,"  and otium, "ease, leisure." The term was adopted in western language in the early 15th century and in its early meaning indicated "carrying on business," as opposed to being at ease or in leisure. Imagine, the word negotiation implies that we are not at ease!   

But surely we can be at ease. The question is, how do we pro-actively create such ease? In 2007, the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School (HLS) convened a panel of Buddhist scholars, practitioners, and professional mediators involved in facilitating effective negotiation. Among them was then Harvard lecturer Zen master (Roshi) Bernie Glassmann: “I come to a new situation without any preconceived notion of how I am going to take care of it,” he said. “I come totally open.”  In an interview on the Coaching For Leaders podcast, Chris Voss, author of Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, equally emphasizes the importance of openness. This is especially hard when you come in knowing a lot, Voss says, warning, for example: "Beware of anchoring high at the start of a conversation as it may exclude you from an even better outcome." 

A radical openness then. Coming in with open mind. Dropping the boundaries between self and other. Dropping the shield of what is known, so we can receive what is happening in relationship. Being at ease around our own and others' emotions, observing what arises without judgment. 

Coming totally open is about not seeking anchor in any familiar ground, high or low. Flying free and together. “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them,” says Albert Einstein.  Appreciative inquiry then.  Fierce and fearless compassion for all of us present. A heck of a lot of trust in the dynamics of co-creation, I admit. Vulnerability. That's risky stuff. But that's exactly where connection takes place and new things emerge. We can go beyond our wildest dreams. We can create magic for our organizations, for others, for ourselves. We have no idea what is possible. That's also fascinating, spellbinding, awesome stuff. Let's. 

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