Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts

Negotiations over dollars and contracts can be fairly straightforward. Each side wants to get ahead and is willing to give and take a little to get what they desire. However, when emotions and deeply held values are at at stake, things become much more thorny. How do you negotiate when each side has "unchangeable" values that must be respected. Daniel Shapiro provides clues to help us recognize different "non-negotiables" and to successfully work with them. He describes many situations that he has dealt with. In one example, he divides a group up into 6 small groups. Each group much come to consensus on a number of difficult questions (such as should the death penalty be allowed). After each group has come to agreement, all the groups must come together and agree to a consensus within a few negotiating rounds or the earth will be destroyed. Despite only recently adopting their group values, each individual tribe held to them. In almost all cases, the earth ended up being destroyed before the team could reach a conclusion. In another role-play, a group was divided into groups, with one group gradually accumulating more wealth in the came. The "haves" were pulled out to a fancy area to plan the rules going forward. The "have nots" mutinied and refused to even listen to the plan of the "haves" - even though there plan was to ensure that the have-nots benefited more. They saw the group as "them" and could not trust them. They were out of tribe.
This "tribe" behavior often happens in the real world, with nations, religions and even sports teams. The attachment is real, even if illogical.
Deeply held values can also be a stumbling block in negotiations. If the two sides hold different, unmovable values, how do you negotiate a common solution? Often the solution is to explore the root value. Is there a solution that can satisfy both sides without compromising values. (An example given was a wife who wanted a Christmas tree for what it represented growing up with her father. The husband did not want one because they were raising their kids Jewish and it would not be appropriate. The solution they came up with was to visit Grandpa on Christmas with the Christmas tree, thereby providing for the memories and keeping their home pure to the Judism.)
Convenient means like problem solving and positional bargaining are often insufficient for resolving emotionally charged conflicts. We can often get in a state of what the author calls "Vertigo". Time passes. Each side is intent on "winning" the conflict and emotion takes over. Participants lose awareness of the outside world and lets emotions take over a negative focus. You need to work to jolt yourself out of this state. Sometimes a surprise or bringing in a legitimate authority can help to break free. A somewhat similar problem is the repetition compulsion. In that, the argument just goes in autopilot as both sides repeat the same thing that has been said before. It is tougher to deal with. It is helpful to identify the "lure" to try to avoid the triggers and stop it before it starts.
Taboos can be both good and bad. Shared taboos are beneficial for a group. However, differing taboos can lead to conflict. Possible options include accepting, chiseling away at the taboo or tearing it down. The key is to find the best way to work around the taboo so that it doesn't interfere with decision making. Similar to taboos, varying sacred values can make agreement difficult. The author uses a scale of "Important, Pseudo-sacred, Sacred and Sacred Sacred" to describe the different degrees of sacredness. These are internal values that may or may not correspond to outward religious practices. To one party "keeping the house clean" is something important, while the other side sees it as a sacred value that must be kept. Understanding these differences can help resolve problems.
Emotionally charged conflicts can be very challenging. Understanding the values and identity that each party has can be very useful in reaching a resolution. Identifying the sources of emotional challenge can help to avoid the pitfalls and obtain a peaceful resolution. The book provides many useful tools for what will be a challenging process.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Why Read Moby Dick

Why should we read Moby Dick? Nathaniel Philbrick gives us a number of reasons in this short book. It serves as a nice intro, giving us background in Mellville's life and times as well as the book itself. When it was published, Moby Dick was not very successful. However, after the civil war, and especially after the great world wars, the novel increased in popularity due to its timeless themes. Melville was also a stickler for details giving the novel additional value as a history of a bygone era and profession. Moby book is a long book, and Philbrick acknowledges you can get plenty out of abridgments and other versions. Now, I want to read it.

Joy Luck Club

Joy Luck Club is a collection of stories of Chinese women who have lived in San Francisco. Some stories deal with life in China, but most deal with life in San Francisco. In one, a mother remarks that she hoped to raise a Chinese woman with all the benefits of America, but instead got an American woman. That becomes a sad theme in the book. In spite of growing up in a large Chinese community, these women have mostly lost their Chinese culture. They live like Americans. When they go back to China, they are clearly foreigners. However, in America, they are often not seen as "true Americans" (In one story, she is mistaken for Vietnamese.) The old culture is lost, but there is not a new culture to replace it.
The Chinese mothers come across as the powerful figures. Even in a culture that placed little importance in women, the mother still became the controlling figure in their children's lives. Once in America, the mothers could continue to rely on some of the "old world" knowledge to see through the trappings of materialism in America to realize that their daughters are not doing as well as they thing they are. Alas, it takes adulthood for the daughters to finally come around. Most of their troubles are those typical of upper-middle class Americans. The Chinese culture helped push them out of the "poor refugee" status, but still left them to struggle with life.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Stones Into Schools

Stones into Schools comes across as a "behind the scenes" tale of the quest to provide education for the "uneducated" in the impoverished areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The focus is primarily on girls, who are often denied education due to lack of resources and cultural restrictions. They hope the education will "set them free" to help achieve their full potential. (However, what they do achieve is still up to them, and may be different than what we westerners would desire.)
In order to help people, it is important to understand them and work with them. There were many rural communities begging for schools. A great deal of success can be had in working with them to fulfill their needs. Something "owned" by the locals will last longer than something inflicted upon them. The author mentions times when the schools were spared the wrath of militants because a local religious leader was involved with the school and another time where the "inspectors" were so thrilled with the playground they had no issues with the school. However, there were also cases of foreign companies donating expensive camping tents to help people after a natural disaster. Alas, the people mad fires in the tents, causing these expensive tents to burn down and eventually to be used primarily as fuel.

Three Below: Floors Book 2

Leo is now the owner of the Whippet hotel. The books starts with his dad marrying his best friend's mother. He now has a brother to lead him on adventures. This time, he needs to go on a quest to get money to pay the property tax bill (while the parents are out of town on a honeymoon.) To make things challenging the former hotel manager is planning on swooping up the hotel property by paying the taxes. they need to act quick. In the process they explore the lower levels of the hotel. Their adventures go further and further into the realm of fantasy. This book is clearly in the realm of children's literature. There are just too many holes and bits of fantasy to keep it believable. (The numbers all seem too low. Even the ridiculously high tax seems low for a block in Manhattan. The subterranean creatures and inventions also go way beyond the realm of our world. And of course, there is Merganser who seems to have nothing better to do than lead boys on a quest and make sure they don't get harmed. As long as you turn off critical thinking, you can enjoy this quick escapist read.

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back

The Undercover Economist Strikes is a humorous primer on basic macroeconomics. Chapters began with quotes - humorous quotes form Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy lead off a couple of the early chapters. Most of the book is in a conversational "question and answer" format. The "pupil" asks a question which the "economist" answers, leading to additional follow up questions. The answers tend to light-hearted anecdotes that provide an exaggerated understanding of an economic condition. Chapters discuss an early macroeconic modeling system that used hydraulics to solve economic differential equations to model a country's economy. (Enterprising economics even hooked the export pipe of one model one model to the import of another to model the impacts policies would have on other countries.) We also have money supply explained using the failure, success, and failure of a capitol hill babysitting co-op. Printing money can be good, unless it leads to hyper inflation, in which case it is very bad. People can be irrational, and be much more concerned with a drop in their salary, even though a small increase in times of high inflation tends to be worse. In classical economic models, prices rise and fall based on supply and demand. However, in the real world, there are many factors which cause the prices to be sticky. This can often lead to negative economic outcomes. (It is difficult to cut wages. Thus, unemployment tends to worsen when the economy is bad - even though many people would be willing to work for a smaller amount of money.)
By using humor, the author is able to provide explanations to both sides of controversial economic policies such as stimulus and inequality remedies without being dogmatic.