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Beyond Machiavelli : Tools for Coping With Conflict Paperback – January 1, 1996
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About the Author
Roger Fisher is the Samuel Williston Professor of Law Emeritus, Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, and the founder of two consulting organizations devoted to strategic advice and negotiation training.
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To identify the root cause of a conflict Fisher suggests that one must not be responsive but purposive. As an example when two children are fighting the adult who breaks them apart may ask "why" they hit each other. To this the most likely response may be "because he hit me first". But that response only explains the cause of the fight not its root cause.
Another key ingredient suggested by Fisher is keeping in perspective the situation and mind set the other side is facing. In a ball game it may be easy to not agree with a team change decision a coach has made. But understanding the dynamics and pressure faced by him, we are then in a better position to critique if the decision made was correct. If we had a chance him our opinion this added perspective can aid us to be sensitive to his situation.
Fisher believes that understanding how others view a conflict is knowledge that gives us strength. It enhances our ability to influence them. Through exploring and motivations leading up to a conflict we can increase our understanding of where their perceptions comes from.
No matter how much we disagree with someone we need influenced. It is extremely important that we maintain a level of dialogue; so that we may not push the party away and be faced with a situation we never wish to face. After the overthrow of the shah of Iran in 1979, the U.S unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the government for a hundred executions conducted by the new government. Ironically the U.S had overlooked the thousands of executions of political opponents done during the Shahs regime. It was in the best interest of the U.S to keep Iran engaged and maintain some working relationship to avoid Iran being driven to the Soviet block and preventing the hostage crisis.
This is not a book of answers and solutions to conflicts. The tools suggested in this book are intended to ask or simulate better questions. Better questions are not about who is right or who is wrong, or about one-hot solutions, but the process of dealing with conflicting views about right and wrong and for dealing with the inevitable changes that lie ahead. For e.g. Fisher suggests that instead of starting with the question "What shall I do?" you might want to start with such questions as "What would I like someone else to do?" and "What could I do that would make it easier for them to do it?".
The book references Machiavelli in the title because he first asked the question of what once should advise princes. Since then, there has not been enough progress in answering that question. The book makes good headway in adding new insights and directions.
Although this book is aimed at (and explicitly discusses) conflicts in international relations, the authors also report that those using these techniques in negotiating workshops and exercises found them helpful in resolving business and legal issues as well. Having studied the book, heard Professor Fisher speak about it, and participated in a workshop to use this approach, I agree with that assessment. You can think of this book as the next phase beyond the landmark book, Getting to Yes, that Professor Fisher also coauthored.
Anyone who has gone to law school (which I admit I am guilty of) will recognize familiar elements of the legal analysis process. Yet the application is new and powerful.
Essentially, this book gives you the guidelines and examples you need to create:
-- a checklist of steps to analyze conflict
-- a set of analytic tools to figure out why the conflict is not settled and to offer a new approach that is better
-- an action plan built from a 2 page digest of a proposal, a 1 page list of talking points, and a to-do list for each party as next steps.
You are exhorted to focus on points of choice for the adversary, looking to your purposes in planning your moves rather than just reacting to what the other side does, and carefully choosing your purposes.
The process basically involves role playing that begins with seeing the problem from the point of view of the other side (this is nicely summarized in tables that show side-by-side comparisons of views on the same conflict elements); focusing on the choices open to the other side and influencing those choices (using tools of message analysis to get to intent); generating fresh ideas (by looking at the problem, diagnosing choices, looking at the approach being used, and reviewing action plans); formulating good advice ("What decision do you want the adverary to choose?"); and helping remove the causes of conflicts with process changes (creating new mediators, training people in this way of thinking, etc.).
The examples in the book cover every major conflict that you are likely to be familiar with in the last 40 years. They provide a useful reference point to the book's principles.
I was particularly impressed with the discussion of how to determine which advice is moral, and how to frame solutions so they would be well understood.
The key to this approach is to break down your thinking into step-by-step, smaller pieces. Those of you who have read Six Thinking Hats will recognize the benefits this can bring. By doing this, you can dissipate your own in-going perspective to capture the perspective of the person you want to convince.
Good luck in using this approach to overcome misconception, communication, disbelief, procrastination, and bureaucratic stalls!