... Say What?
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... Say What? • Posted: Sep 21, 2012 14:03:04Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

A seven day long teacher's strike ended earlier this week in Chicago. The unionized teachers did pretty well for themselves. Neither side caved. Neither side pressed so hard they lost public support. Students and parents were inconvenienced, but not pushed to hardship. The ultimate compromise looks to both reward teachers for their earnest efforts and help implement structural reforms school administrators insist will improve outcomes for students. Negotiations were blunt, strenuous, and often less than cordial. But both sides seemed, in the end, to want the same thing: an affordable but increasingly worthwhile experience for students.

My, my, what a stellar example of selfless negotiation toward the common good. Wouldn't it be interesting if the U.S. Congress took note?

Why, one must ask, do most negotiations, labor or political, or even interpersonal, fail to establish resolute commitment to a common good? Why, instead, do they more often result in both sides adding up grudges, nursing animosity, increasing mutual distrust, and crippling any continuing relationship? The answer seems to be that most negotiations are not selflessly focused on trying to optimize a common good. Instead, they are selfishly focused on optimizing personal gain and minimizing personal loss. That's a huge difference, a complete change of dynamics, rules, and expectations.

So, why did things work differently in Chicago than they do must everywhere else?

There might not be a really good answer to that question, but part of the answer could be that it's harder to see and establish a mutual understanding of common good when both sides lack the ability to see and understand the other's point of view, when each side sees the other as too different to trust mutual understanding could ever exist, much less grow. When one side asks of themselves "What secret advantage can I preserve for myself?" and the other asks "What secret advantage is he/she hiding from me?" no common good is being considered, and no mutually trustful cooperation results. Instead, each plays to minimize possible loss. Neither plays to maximize mutual benefit. From an outsider's point of view, one wonders: why even bother to engage?

What might work better, and probably did in Chicago, is if from the beginning each side invites the other into their world and attempts to openly and honestly educate as to the conditions, dynamics, desires, and values that motivate and give meaning. The more each side understands of how working together toward common ends would benefit their own aspirations, the greater the chance a relationship of mutual cooperation will result. (It's truly a shame that negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program haven't taken this course. But it certainly hasn't been that agents of the U.N. haven't tried the approach.)

Next time someone on the street asks if you wouldn't mind moving a bit, see how much you actually understand of his or her point of view and whether or not they are trying to understand yours in any significant way, or if they have callously prejudged you as trying to selfishly keep them from their objective. Then try suggesting a common good or mutually beneficial exchange. You might be surprised at what results.

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
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