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ZEN AND THE ART OF NEGOTIATION:

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

By Mark Young President, Rational Games, Inc.


This month, I had the opportunity to attend a five-day silent “Zen Leadership” retreat. This was an offering in the Rinzai tradition of Zen, further specified as “Daishin” Zen, which seeks to preserve much of the more formal and severe traditions but also makes things more modern, European, and more affirming of bodily and worldly pursuits, all within a dedicated effort to listen to the messages of the heart.


It was sometimes difficult (lots of marching in silence, arcane rituals, and three hours of meditation a day!) but also a very beautiful time and one that left me profoundly strengthened and grateful for what I experienced. And the bonus is that I see some fairly clear ways I can apply this to my negotiation pedagogy and practice.


The first “level” of Zen practice is bompu or “ordinary Zen”. This is a regular meditation practice, more or less like any other mindfulness pursuit, available to people of any age. It is basically about achieving mental and physical wellness, with the practitioner seeking to calm the mind and let go of any attachments.


In negotiation, the important benefit here is the general sharpening of awareness, both in my own actions and in seeking to understand the interests of the other party. As Zen-trained negotiators, we tune in much more finely to all that is around us. And that is a source of power and the art of negotiation.


As we deepen our practice we begin to experience gedo or “Outside Way” Zen. Here we move beyond Buddhist doctrine to gain a greater distance from the self and a deeper awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. We experience a greater lightness and ease, even in difficult circumstances.


In negotiation, it seems to me that this is the key to dealing with difficult partners, and to finding the famous space between “respond and react” articulated by Viktor Frankl. Learning not to react to “dirty tricks” but rather to recognize and respond to them strategically requires this kind of deeper awareness. Add to that genuine compassion for the “difficult partner”.


The third and highest form of Zen practice is daijo, or “Great Practice”, in which we embrace everything that arises in us, thereby experiencing the effortless connection to one’s true self. We see things more intimately and purely, increasingly finding our inner voice.


In negotiation, this means following the heart and sharpening our intuition. We learn to simply feel what is right and what is possible. We make creative and well-timed proposals. We access a deeper wisdom.


Intuition is a very deep and rich topic indeed, perhaps the subject of another blog. Always further, as Mondrian said.


Comments welcome!

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