PON diner

On the 5th of december 2013 the PON diner was organized by Pedagogy @ PON directors Larry Susskind (MIT) and Michael Wheeler (HBS), This seminar brought PON-affiliated faculty together to explore what happens when the parties in a dispute engage in joint training aimed at helping them to shift from a win-lose to a mutual gains approach to negotiation.

The Dinner Seminar had three speakers. The first was Frans Evers from the Netherlands, a very experienced public dispute mediator and negotiation trainer who has served at the Ministerial level in the Netherlands, headed the largest nature organization in his country, and successfully mediated a number of high profile infrastructure development projects. He has pioneered the use of joint training. Then Professor Robert McKersie, Sloan School of Management and his co-presenter, Nancy Peace, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Education Partnership and an experienced labour mediator and arbitrator, talked about joint training for labour and management bargaining teams. Professor Larry Susskind from MIT served as the moderator. Several members of the Pedagogy Initiative were willing to comment. 

Frans Evers explained how most of his training/mediation work is related to issues of sustainable development and how these are processes of negotiation not only about interests but also about values.

Very often an important part of the negotiation is the agreement on shared new values.

Evers explained how after careful preparation including individual talks with representatives of all stakeholders a typical two day starting conference will be organized under his chairmanship. “Never allow the convener execute the responsibility of the process during that meeting by chairing”.

According to Frans Evers a successful  training should

1. build a shared working theory and language;

2. unfreeze relationships and work on understanding among the parties;

3. get the parties to work together on a problem “like” their real life problem;

4. experience the use of new skills

5. create competence 

Experience in several major instances in The Netherlands shows that this approach can work and is still having positive effect after many years. In a few cases condensed trainings were given when many representatives were replaced.

“After the presentations, seminar participants were encouraged to respond to the ideas that emerged and share their personal experiences. A number of experienced instructors made the point that joint training appears to focus on building better relationships among the disputants as it simultaneously emphasizes individual skill building (i.e. giving participants a common language and a new set of problem-solving tools). There seem to be numerous ways to ensure that both these things happen (e.g. eating meals together, having people introduce their counterparts to the rest of the group, engaging in off-site walks and conversations, getting to know the “others” as people rather than as opponents, etc.).

There seemed to be agreement among everyone present that role play simulations are critical to the success of joint training, especially when they can be used to force people to play the role of the “other.” This not only enhances perspective taking, it also protects participants from appearing to “give away” any confidential information that might have a bearing on ongoing or upcoming negotiations. Trainers should choose role-play simulations that appear realistic to the participants, but involve hypothetical fact patterns so that the real negotiations don’t actually begin during the role-play simulations.

Many of the teachers and trainers present made the point that they are concerned about the long-term impact or institutional “uptake” of the ideas and techniques presented during joint trainings. It appears that on several occasions very little organizational learning occurred, particularly in the labor-management field. As soon as the leaders change in one or both sides, joint training is needed all over again. The designers of joint training are looking for ways to have a lasting impact. One suggestion underscored that the participants need to take responsibility for teaching new members how to negotiate using the tools and concepts presented during previous joint training. This is quite a challenge.

The evidence presented during the seminar suggested quite clearly that joint training can help participants in ongoing conflicts deal with their differences more effectively. The jointness of the training is the key. Of course, it was noted that those at the P@PON dinner assumed that the ideas and techniques of negotiation being taught should be those that PON has pioneered — mutual gains, principled negotiation, seven elements, interest-based bargaining, etc.” ( Quote from the Pedagogy @PON newsletter)