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Negotiating Happiness: Managing Peoples'

Predictably Irrational Focusing Illusions. Part 2:

Negotiation Strategies and Techniques
by Robert Benjamin Supporting Effective Agreement
Part 1 of this two part series, The Science of Happiness and Origins Of Focusing
Illusions, is printed: here.
"A good strategy takes into account that everyone in a controversy is a little
crazy and there is seldom a straight line to a resolution. The negotiator must frequently be
"crazy like a fox," side-stepping, zig-zagging, and doubling back through issues before
backing into a workable agreement."
Negotiation Strategies and Techniques
Negotiating and managing peoples focusing illusions necessarily require the use of strategies
and techniques that match their irrational framing and the emotional state from which they
originate. This requires more elliptical, indirect, and counterintuitive strategies than the more
direct, reasoned and rational approaches generally allow. To be sure, rational analysis and
planning remain critical for effective conflict management; however, they are not sufficient
alone and if over-relied upon, risk being counterproductive. Diffuse emotional processes,
such as the focusing illusion of happiness, cannot be adequately addressed merely by the
clarification of the interests and needs of those immersed in managing complex issues or
conflicts. As effectively presented as the most practical, sensible and reasonable option might
be, it will seldom overcome the emotional investment compelled by a focusing illusion.
Despite our cultural dedication to the myth of rationality, logic and reason remain the least
effective means of convincing or persuading anyone of anything---especially when they feel
their happiness, however defined, is at stake.
Few people will change or abandon their ideas of happiness easily because their thinking
about what they want is conflated with what they define as rational. As Kahneman has
demonstrated in his numerous studies over the decades, most intuitive thinking, typically
based on familiar and easily available conventional wisdom, is inherently error prone.
However, people can be enticed to consider modifying their focusing illusions just enough so
as to allow others notions of happiness to co-exist with their own. They are susceptible to
being reshaped and redirected. To the extent such an illusion is a product of skewed
perception and a constructed memory it can be reconstructed.
To access peoples focusing illusions in negotiation or mediation requires preparation and
strategic planning. The first step, however, obligates the practitioner to rethink their own
working assumptions, or heuristic biases, about how people make decisions and come to
agreement in difficult circumstances. If they are assumed to be rational actors, he or she
operates differently than they might if people are understood to be predictably irrational.
In preparing, a negotiator or mediator needs to re-examine his or her working
assumptions about their role and thinking frame.
1. The risk of neutrality. Assuming the traditional role of an objective and neutral expert
does not allow easy entry into others focusing illusions. The idea of being a detached, expert
professional became an attractive role model by association with scientific investigation and
methodology, and the belief that rational thinking is the key to problem solving. To enter
another persons emotional state, however, requires a trust level that can only come from
being dynamically engaged in their reality---not just their cognitive thinking frame. Many
negotiators and mediators aspire to appear neutral and objective so as to appear unbiased. In
doing so, however, they often appear disengaged, aloof and removed, compromising their
ability to establish a credible level of authenticity and trust. The opposite of neutral is not
biased; a negotiator who notes biases are unavoidable, including his or her own, can gain
credibility by acknowledging their presence and being less concerned about the appearance of
neutrality than the maintenance of balance in the turbulent dynamics of a conflict.
2. Examine unwitting value judgments about the nature of happiness. Varieties of
happiness can range from the simple, sublime, relational and spiritual experiences with family,
friends or nature, to the material acquisition of wealth and possessions, fame, prestige, power,
control and other accouterments that provide an immediate sense of security. Validating
another persons focusing illusion does not require endorsement, agreement, or becoming
similarly delusional, but a negotiator does need to reflect on their own heuristic biases about
their own notions of happiness and how they might influence the value judgments they
attribute to others ideas of genuine happiness.
At the same time, there is a tendency to believe ones apparent notions of happiness are close
akin to personal values and effectively written in stone and non-negotiable. Peoples thinking
is more malleable; it is susceptible to shifts and changes over time and in response to personal
circumstances and external events, and often, alternative framings.
3. Reconsider the traditional cultural and political definitions of the terms rational
and irrational. They are often not useful descriptors of ones own or other peoples
behavior and thinking and outdated and their use constrains the creative framing of issues and
practice strategies and techniques. While peoples focusing illusions of happiness are not
conscious and intentional cognitive constructs, and not accepted as products of rational
thinking, they clearly have a rational purpose. Approaches to those illusions often need to be
made with strategies and techniques traditionally marginalized as non rational or irrational.
Being too beholden to traditional rational thinking can limit options. If a person senses their
emotionally based focusing illusion is being challenged directly, they are likely to resist and
react emotionally by rejecting even the most sensible suggestion. To do so is irrationally
rational. The trick will be to adopt a thinking frame that is instead rationally irrational---using
the persons natural and predictably irrational behavior to advantage. (Benjamin, R.D., On
Becoming A Rationally Irrational Mediator/Negotiator, 2009) The definition of rational must
be expanded to incorporate what has heretofore been thought of as irrational thinking.
Many of the strategies and techniques for negotiating and managing conflict have been
practiced for centuries, and continue to be, notwithstanding the considerable efforts in recent
decades to re-make negotiation into a reasoned and rational process. (Benjamin, R.D., The
Natural History of Negotiation and Mediation: The Evolution of Negotiative Behavior and
Rituals, 2012) Even without the benefit of research in neuroscience and psychology,
people recognized that the origin and progression of disputes are more chaotic, non-linear,
dynamic, emotional phenomena that must be understood and embraced with corresponding
thinking and strategies.
The hallmark of most disputes are the parties displays of confusion, inconsistency, bluster,
positioning, theatrics, illogical thinking, and with the whole mess infused with the fear of
losing some right or entitlement they deserve. That irrationality, not easily cured by
reasoned discussion, requires the strategic use of similarly sourced techniques, such as
paradox, confusion, distraction, deception, and confrontation, that acknowledge the sources
of the conflict in tone and texture. In traditional cultures, the use of crazy wisdom---
shock, humor, or other indirect and dislocating tactics---are commonly employed. (Nisker,
Wes, Crazy Wisdom, 19 ) Folkloric trickster figures, present in virtually every human
cultures myths, stories and literature, relied on forms of crazy wisdom and techniques both
sacred and profane in order to resolve conflicts between immovable objects and irresistible
forces. (Benjamin, R.D., Managing the Natural Energy of Conflict: Mediators, Tricksters
and the Constructive Uses of Deception, in Bringing Peace Into the Room, 2004) In more
recent centuries, Communications Theory and Systems Theory have paid greater attention to
the counter intuitive, paradoxical, and unintended consequences that are characteristic of the
dynamics of complex systems, be they families, teams, organizations, corporations,
professions, countries, or for that matter, any human grouping.
Negotiating focusing illusions occurs in three phases, which are not linear or
sequential, require time, and include frequent loops back and forth between them
throughout the process. The first phase is to engage and validate the persons illusion;
second, to unsettle and disrupt the persons notion of happiness; and third, to reshape and
reconstruct their illusion in a form that is more conducive to the settlement of the conflict.
The engagement phase draws from trickster stories. Just as tricksters first transform
themselves, or shape shift, to enter the reality of their target audience, experienced
negotiators and mediators exhibit behaviors similarly fashioned to connect, not just to others
positions, but at a deeper level that validates their focusing illusions, even when they are
illogical or seemingly irrational. Sometimes intentionally, and often unwittingly, they use
neuro-linquistic techniques, which employ forms of mimicry, tracked by neuroscientists that
foster that empathy and acknowledgement. To a greater or lesser extent, most people effect
communication by approximating the other persons verbal and nonverbal patterns---pacing
and synchronizing the tension, rhythm and tone of their body motions and voice---- allowing
them to connect with the others emotional state. Neuro-linguistic communication goes
beyond just listening to words and emphasizes hearing their meaning, whether clearly
articulated on or not. It is less a cognitive activity than a whole body visceral engagement.
This differs from the more cognitive active listening model still prevalent, actively taught
and encouraged in negotiation and mediation training and practice. The focus on cognitive
thinking and analysis is more compatible with rationalist working premises of conflict
management and the detached demeanor of a neutral. The technique was first articulated in
and from the work of the noted mid-Twentieth Century psychologist Carl R. Rogers. His
principles of communication and rhetoric suggested that by careful cognitive attention to
dialogue disputing parties might more rationally and effectively reach common ground.
(Rogers, Carl L., Communication: Its Blocking and Facilitation, in On Becoming A
Person, 1961) The emotional processes, while not wholly ignored, are not the focus. For a
negotiator to remain on the cognitive level, focused on the problem and not the people---
notwithstanding Fisher and Urys suggestion in Getting to Yes (1981)---they are less likely to
sufficiently engage with the underlying focusing illusions of others.
The engaging of anothers focusing illusion, entering their reality, also allows for the use of
paradoxical injunction. A counter-intuitive technique that makes an end run around the direct,
straightforward use of reasoned persuasion and logic, which all too often end in an
unwinnable argument, it focuses on a partys emotional resistance to considering other
notions. By encouraging a party to hold to their illusion, many are released and given
permission to let go of the belief that their controlling illusion is the only one available. For
many people with terminal illnesses, for example, once they have been allowed the right to
end their lives, are relieved to know they have regained sufficient control over their lives such
that they need not do so. More than mere reverse psychology, however, the negotiator must
be able to convey a sense of authenticity that the happiness form chosen and being pursued is
a valid one. Once released from the need to pursue a focusing illusion quite as strenuously, a
person is freed to consider modifications, or stumble over their own thinking errors. The
paradoxical injunction is an excellent example of the rational use of irrational thinking.
The second phase necessitates the negotiator or mediator unsettle and disrupt the other
persons or parties notion of happiness. By confusing and casting just enough doubt on
their illusions, a negotiator can possibly bring about a measure of reflection about their idea
of happiness. This piercing of the bubble of reality most people create for themselves in their
thinking is the beginning of the process of transforming the context of the dispute. This space
allows room for alternative realities that maintain some parts of the happiness illusion to seep
into their thinking.
The techniques for transforming the context can range from the use of logic to cast doubt on
a persons embedded focusing illusion, either by direct challenge to its realistic premises,
reasoned persuasion that appeal to their self-interest, or more indirect techniques. Often
times, direct challenges are productively offset by sidestepping and avoiding direct discussion
of the illusion. Direct challenges, that are too persistent, risk becoming counterproductive
arguments that result in steeling a partys resolve to stand firm. Sometimes a negotiator does
well to retreat redirect the discussion into other matters, distracting attention away from the
illusion and creating the room necessary to approach it from a different angle at a more
advantageous time.
Creating distractions by strategically avoidance and timing gives an opportunity for people to
rethink their perspective and for creative alternatives to emerge. (Benjamin, R.D., The Joy
of Impasse: The Neuroscience of Insight and Creative Problem Solving, 2009) Daniel
Kahneman observed from his research that nothing in life is as important as you think it is
when you are thinking about it. For example, studies of paraplegics and others with
disabilities report a level of wellbeing comparable to others without substantial physical
impairments because their focus is not on their limits, but rather on their abilities. If a
persons focusing illusion of happiness is dwelled upon, then there is a greater likelihood of
the emergence of a thinking bias. Experiences that are initially memorable and allowed to
dominate become the filter through which all other subsequent activities are experienced. Too
much storytelling surrounding the focusing illusion, therefore, minimizes the passage of time
and allows the illusion to garner an undeserved greater level of importance. Neuroscientific
work confirms as well that the memory functions of the brain are, if not fragile, most
susceptible to influence. Stories told and retold are typically embellished and given an
undeserved prodigal and mythical level of meaning. Distracting attention away from such
stories can help to minimize their undue influence and disrupt the persons focusing illusion.

The final phase of negotiating happiness involves re-shaping and re-directing a partys
focusing illusion, or more precisely, how his or her notion of happiness might be realized
in a somewhat different form. Sometimes those discussions are best done privately, in caucus,
so that the person can more safely consider a shift in their perspective without the threat of
being obligated to change, or appearing to compromise. That word, compromise,
seemingly benign and intellectually acceptable is rational discourse, is often emotionally
jarring to many peoples emotional sense of security. Being asked to compromise is
tantamount to being asked to abdicate and abandon ones reason for living---the ultimate
surrender and appeasement. Private sessions allow people the opportunity to theatrically try
on and play out how a shift in their illusion might feel, and how it might be effectively and
credibly presented to the other party, if they were to do so.
In continuing to cycle through the stages allows the person or persons involved to stumble
into an alternative concoction of what their future wellbeing might look like. In each phase a
negotiator must sense, improvise, and fashion a response that sometimes dances around the
focusing illusion and at other times confronts it directly. Timing--- both when an intervention
or suggestion is made and the amount of time allowed for the process to take hold---is
important. Seldom will, or can, a person quickly abandon a focusing illusion. Sometimes for
the negotiation process to move forward, it must be first stalled, either by the intentional
action of the mediator or negotiator, or by an external circumstance.
The negotiation process is seldom, if ever, straightforward. While it is eminently sensible for
people to negotiate their differences, it does not fit the traditional understanding of what it
means to be rational. Game playing, theatrics, and posturing, are all a regular, if not
necessary, part of the process. This is especially apparent in difficult matters where the clash
of the parties focusing illusions of happiness is the sharpest and most cutting. To be effective,
the negotiator has to engage, dull and disrupt the clarity of the illusion and reshape it in a more
palatable form.
In their more quiet moments, many people realize there is a gap between their illusions of
what will make them happy and the on the ground reality that surrounds them. They are
often, however, not able to admit it to others--- or sometimes even to themselves--- and will
likely deny it if challenged. Under the strain of conflict, people under pressure are seldom
reflective as they grasp for some semblance of control and hang tenaciously to those notions
that are familiar and offer comfort and security. In the squeeze, a persons ideas of happiness,
once moderately pursued, become ideas that must be urgently solidified to settle, if only in
their own minds, their right and entitlement to the illusion of happiness they have imagined for
themselves. As a result, peoples ideas of happiness are often expressed more as ultimatums
and demands for guarantees of future security than for hopes and dreams in progress.
The trick is to foment and access those quiet moments of realization each of us has wherein
we realize that our happiness is not tethered to a set idea. Some shifting occurs by chance;
any number of events and circumstances that can intervene to cause a re-consideration of
their idea of happiness including, illness, financial setbacks, divorce, age, and natural and
man-made disasters, among others. Nudging people to re-shape their focusing illusions of
happiness in order to settle conflicts with others, however, must be thought out carefully and
Mediators and negotiators, who are in the middle of this dynamic where peoples focusing
illusions of happiness are colliding, need to be flexible and innovative in their strategies and
techniques in managing conflict. Because the operation of the messy human brain,
especially when processing perceived threats, does not follow Rational Decision Making
Theory, they must learn to match how people actually make decisions, not how they might
wish they would. This means incorporating into their thinking frame, their own, and other
peoples predictable irrationality. In short, negotiators and mediators need to consciously and
intentionally become rationally irrational, anticipating and using to their advantage how
people tend to approach difficult choices. In addition to techniques designed to clarify issues,
there may be times when creating confusion is helpful; sometimes a negotiators
uncharacteristic challenge or expression of frustration can shock people to consider a different
perspective. (Benjamin, R.D., On Becoming A Rationally Irrational Mediator/Negotiator,
2009) While some might consider such strategies and the techniques manipulative, however,
they can often nudge people to move toward an agreement that allows for the greater security
of all concerned.
Negotiators and mediators need not forget their discipline, training and skills as conflict
analysts, but they must also add to their repertoire the disposition of shamans or folkloric
trickster figures. (Benjamin, R.D., Managing the Natural Energy of Conflict: The Mediator
as Trickster and the Constructive Uses of Deception, 2004) Managing peoples conflicts
requires them to use the same imperfect memories of the past and imagined visions of an
ideal future that originally gave rise to peoples focusing illusions of happiness in order to re-
shape them just enough so that they might be, if not wholly compatible, then at least not
mutually exclusive.
Unlike any other animal specie, most every human being constructs for him or herself a
notion of happiness and wellbeing for their life. Those ideas, however, are not self-fulfilling or
solely within their control. In the end, their happiness must be negotiated with others.

Copyright, November 2009, Robert D. Benjamin
Robert Benjamin biography and additional articles:
November 2012
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