Saturday, October 28, 2006

Book Review: Beyond Reason

Book review: Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate, by Roger Fisher (coauthor of Getting to Yes) and Daniel Shapiro (associate director of the Harvard Negotiation Project).

The best way to resolve problems -- whether they're formal negotiations, or problem-solving related to corporate life or personal conflicts -- is to look at the facts, stay objective and dispassionate, and keep your feelings out of the way. Right?

Well, no. It sounds nice, and plenty of people will be quick to tell you that emotions have no place in business, but the fact is that emotions are a basic physiological response, like yanking your hand away from a scalding pot. Pretending you don't have any... that's like pretending you don't have a foot. Emotions can affect your body, your thinking, and your actions.

As with so many other issues, it's not what emotions you've got, but what you do with them that counts.

Fisher and Shapiro draw attention to common triggers of emotional upset and suggest ways to turn that attention into an asset. Reduce the likelihood that the situation will explode; instead, use your emotions (and those of your adversary) to create partnership, collaboration, and respect.

Oh -- and conflict resolution.

Talk about useful: Not only is the book easy to read, well documented, based on research, illustrated with real-life examples, and structured on a progressive list of principles and easy-to-execute suggestions, it's got a cool "Analytical Table of Contents" at the back, so you can locate and review procedures in a snap. (I love this feature.) There's no formal index (my only serious disappointment), but there's a lovely annotated bibliography that not only lists works consulted, but describes and evaluates them.

Emotions can mire discussions in a La Brea Tar Pit of messy decline, but they can also elevate discussions and create bonds of mutual purpose. The authors describe how to prevent the first scenario and stabilize the second. They describe five core concerns that stimulate many emotions: Appreciation, Affiliation, Autonomy, Status and Role; they offer ways to handle strong emotions; they suggest ways to prepare for (and thus avert) disaster.

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