Doctor Stephen Sulmeyer led a challenging all day class in Austin in June for the 50+ collaborative team members attending the 2018 CDT Advanced Training. Moving beyond interest-based negotiation is a big change from how most of us were trained.
After briefly tracing the evolution of modern negotiation practice from position-based to interest-based, he broke new ground for many of us by suggesting that the evolution of the next paradigm will require:
• a willingness to be uncomfortable;
• a willingness to examine and question your thoughts about personal conflict;
• a willingness to examine and challenge your relationship to emotions; and
• a willingness to be vulnerable.
“It’s impossible to reason someone out of a position they were never reasoned into.” – Jonathan Swift
This is not about jettisoning anything. Rather, I don’t think any of those statements are new to us. Instead, he says it is about creating an integrative, holistic approach that is the newly emerging paradigm. In other words: transcend and include. Bear with me here because it gets a little hippy-dippy until you come out the other side and realize that what he is describing is probably the same place we have all been heading for some time in our search for better peacekeeping solutions to conflict, particularly in collaborative divorce.
In getting to this new paradigm he suggests we expand the definition of our interests to include the emotional, psychological and spiritual. It also means take your time. No rushing to solutions or trying too soon to fix the obvious problems. In fact, he encourages us to make more room for the chaos, the, random and the unknown factors, than we have in the past, as part of the collaborative process.
The Need to Lead While Still Following
To further elaborate, Sulmeyer insists that our collaborative clients still need strong guidance in the new paradigm, but, this guidance must be displayed as good parenting on our part, in order for them to receive the benefits of our collaborative leadership. The parties will need for us to inform our leadership by attunement to their needs. Consider:
• The collaborative process as a holding environment; and
• Holding the parties with love and fierce compassion.
We get to this new paradigm by distinguishing between Core and Non-Core Needs. His list of Core Needs includes:
• “Survival. A sense that my most basic needs for food, clothing, shelter will be met.
• Safety. A sense of security, of relaxed ease, and freedom from physical harm. Includes the need for support, guidance and protection as children.
• Autonomy. A sense of agency, of efficacy, of capacity, of power, of freedom, of empowerment, of finding and using one’s voice.
• Connectedness. A sense of intimacy, relatedness, of belonging; a need for affiliation; a need to be seen and known for who we are by another.
• Self-esteem. A sense of self-worth, self-value, respect, dignity, accomplishment, both from oneself and from others.
• Meaning. A sense that what we do in the world is worthwhile, fulfilling, and matters. A sense of contentment and fulfillment. A sense of living from and as our highest self.”
The Non-Core Needs are described as:
• “Vindication. A need to be proven right. A distortion of the need for justice and fairness and/or the need to for self-esteem.
• Vengeance. A need to hurt those who have hurt us. Often includes a need to humiliate another. A distortion of the need for connectedness and/or the need to be valued. Always masking hurt.”
One important key to getting to the Core Needs and away from the Non-Core Needs is to create Trust. There is a connection between trust and allowing not-knowing. He postulates: “What does it mean to trust yourself? What does it mean to trust the process? What does it mean to trust God or the Universe or something greater than self? What would our work look like if we could let go, allow confusion and not-knowing, and trust something greater than ourselves?”
This is where he emphasized that practicing these ideas helps through exercises in trust in small groups while role-playing as clients and members of the collaborative team. He instructed us to say something to the group about how you don’t trust (yourself, others, the process, God, whatever) and do it in no more than one sentence. We did this for 10 minutes and then reversed direction and say something about how you do trust. The results were quite interesting in my group. People really spoke from the heart about very profound concerns both personally and professionally. The result, for me, being a better understanding of what we expect our clients to do in joint session with the team.
Sulmeyer recommended that we recognize our own inner emotional status as a barometer of what might be happening with the parties we’re working with.
To summarize, interest-based negotiation is situated in the scientific-positivist paradigm, in which everyone is seen as separate, and solutions come from using our head alone to figure out what to do.
“The new-paradigm approach to dispute resolution is far more mysterious: it’s about opening ourselves to something greater than ourselves. This means constantly crossing the terrifying threshold from our defended self to being utterly open, which involves our having to tolerate feeling vulnerable, scared, and not knowing what to do,” he writes.
Sulmeyer concludes: “Once we have landed in that place of openness, we have no idea what to do or what is going to happen. And that is precisely what is needed to be receptive to what needs to happen (and what is happening).”
It is his belief that when collaborative practitioners can put themselves in what he calls “a place of undefended openness we make ourselves instruments of something greater” than just ourselves, which enables our clients to work through the team members, accomplishing results we could never have come up with within the limits of interest-based negotiation.