I have for some time been interested in the relationship between negotiation and meditation/mindfulness,  an interest spurred not only on the growing literature about the connection between the two but also by my own personal experiences as an amateur meditator and professional negotiator.  In any case, it seems to me to be one of the Big Ideas of current negotiation research.

Certainly, there is no question that mindfulness is good for you.  The findings from clinical psychology and neuroscience (Jon Kabat-Zinn) have documented stress reduction, measurable changes in the firing of brain neutrons and emotional equanimity.   Meditation improves mental health, helps people see things more clearly and enjoy them more fully.  And it helps reduce negative emotions.

It also seems clear that happy, grounded people get better negotiation results. The mental agility that mindfulness releases helps immensely in many of the thinking skills that we teach in negotiation seminars:  reframing, thinking bigger, creativity, appreciation of complexity.   Mindful negotiators find that they can move more easily from the reactive to the deliberate, and make strategic choices as to which moves to make and which games to play.  That is an enormous advantage.

Mindful negotiators also find it easier to go beyond a paradigm of scarcity (win/lose) to embrace one of abundance and thriving.  The expanded view of things can dramatically increase the scope of what seems possible.

Finally, I think there is also a clear connection between negotiation and ethics.  As mindfulness also teaches “loving-kindness” and compassion, it moves the negotiator from a transactional model of thinking to one of long-term relationship and character building.  She will find that she now has a moral reason to get to win-win, as well as an instrumental one.  Dirty tricks fall by the wayside quite naturally under such an “expanded view of the positive regard”.

This view can of course be dangerous.  Just as empathy becomes a liability in negotiation when it turns to sympathy ( I blogged about empathy earlier this year),  mindful negotiators must be vigilant that they do not become Saints, completely forgetting their own mandate and interests in favor of a cosmic harmony.   They are still partisan, and that is wholly compatible with a healthy mindfulness.  See Len Riskin’s work for more on this.

It is a rich topic indeed.  Of course, much more needs to be done here, especially in an effort to ground this empirically.  What is conjecture and what is proven?  What should we do next?

Comments and input welcome!


P.S. Check out our fun, interactive iPad game, “Negotiate!” where you can hone your negotiation skills with a real life case.