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This month, please allow me to do a more personal blog, on a topic that is on everyone’s mind all over the globe.  But what does it have to do with negotiation?

Quite a bit.  As I sit alone in my home office musing, I focus on three things:

  1. The enormity of the “something at stake”.  One of my clients, in discussing environmental negotiations, said to me simply: “one does not negotiate with the sea level”.  And so it is with a virus.  With all of the negotiation skills and methods that we teach, no amount of questioning, framing, empathy, anchoring  or strategic preparation will change the course of this fearsome enemy.  It is also hard to see a way to “make the pie bigger”.  There are, regretfully, limits to win-win.

  1. We teach our seminar participants to prepare carefully for negotiations, especially getting their priorities on the issues right, knowing where to stand firm and what to trade.  We now have a compulsory chance to apply that to our own lives.  What really matters?  Quite rapidly, some things that I would very recently have considered “dealbreakers” (gym closing, flight cancellations) have morphed into “throwaways” compared to the larger questions of life and death, and the overall equilibrium of our society.  That is a humbling thought.

  1. Relationship vs content, a key Harvard tenet, remains as important as ever.  Most natural disasters and crises, such as terrorism, floods or earthquakes, bring people together and unlock surprising generosity.  Not so here.  What worries me most are the suspicious and hostile stares at someone who coughs in a restaurant, the empty shelves in the supermarket, the closing of borders to keep the “foreign virus” out and even the sign on the door of my doctor’s office advising patients who feel sick to please get tested somewhere else.    We cannot let this opponent destroy the fabric of our community.  Physical distancing yes, but with our bodies, not our hearts.

Finally, looking at this through the longer-range lense, as frightening and infinite as this all seems now, we can take comfort from the many much larger pandemics that have come and gone, leaving us and our predecessors perhaps a bit sober and wiser.  That is something to reflect on as we self-isolate.  In the meantime, I am rapidly learning the skills of online teaching.  And that at least makes my pie bigger.

Stay safe, stay healthy – and wash your hands!

Image by The Cauldron

Have a look at their educational Motion Comic for kids: Don’t Panic


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