Don't let them stew in impotent rage

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Teachers are constantly negotiating with their pupils. But what is the best technique to employ in this often tortuous process? Most of us assume that children will respond to reason, that the sheer force of cool, logical argument will win the day. But Daniel Shapiro, associate director of the Harvard Negotiation Project and a consultant to governments, businesses and schools, disagrees. In his latest book, Beyond Reason: using emotion as you negotiate, he puts forward the proposition that emotions can help rather than hinder negotiations.

He argues that there are five core concerns in the minds of those on either side in a negotiation:

* Autonomy. To what degree does each party feel that they have freedom to make decisions?Is the other party trying to force them into something?

* Affiliation. Do both sides feel they are working towards the same ends (albeit from different perspectives) - such as, for example, the benefit of the company - or is this an adversarial meeting?

* Status. Who is up and who is down? There's a perception that, in a negotiation, there is only one status for each party. So George Bush has a high status when negotiating with African states; they in turn have low status. Shapiro argues that a range of statuses is possible: President Bush has high status on economic issues, but lower status regarding his knowledge of Africa. We need to respect each other's areas of expertise.

* Role. Ask yourself: do I have a fulfilling role in this negotiation or is the other party just going through the motions? If we cannot achieve what we feel passionately about, we are demotivated. Negotiations will be more fruitful if both parties incorporate the skills of each member of their group into the process.

* Appreciation. Do all the parties feel understood, heard and valued? Negotiations should begin with one party appreciating the points made by the other side, even if we don't agree with them. Research into marital negotiations shows that the tone adopted by both sides in the first 30 seconds will predict the outcome. So begin with something along the lines of: "I understand what you are saying..."

Addressing these concerns can help to dampen the emotion of negotiation. If you tackle issues in a respectful, conciliatory manner, you can prevent any destructive negative emotion creeping in. The way you start will often determine the outcome - however reasonable your argument.

Dr Raj Persaud is Gresham professor for public understanding of psychiatry, and director of the Centre for Public Engagement, King's College London.

His latest book is The Motivated Mind (Bantam Press). Email:

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