Do not avoid or fear the pain of conflict. Stay with that pain: watch it, accept it, and embrace it, urge Joel Edelman and Mary Beth Crain, authors of The Tao of Negotiation. They describe their book as practical guide to “conflict enlightenment” written for “warriors of peace.” Drawing inspiration from Lao Tsu, the Dalai Lama, and Ghandi, the authors assert that success in negotiation requires the opposite of meeting conflict with more conflict. However, that does not mean passively giving in. Instead, they state:
“When we negotiate from the perspective of the Tao, we study the terrain, plan our strategies. We are not passive; we are aware, at all times, of the stirrings in the bushes, the footsteps of the intruders and the proper way in which to meet them and disarm them. We are in inner control; outer events respond accordingly.”
Although the authors’ viewpoint might be Eastern, the object they view – disputes and dispute resolution – is the same as others who have written on the topic. When stripped of the Taoist wrapping paper, their message does not differ too much from many other writers and teachers on the topic. The essentials remain: (1) honestly assess the parties’ interests, (2) possess the capacity and desire to resolve the conflict, (3) ground discussions in the present and not the past, (4) attempt to address as many of the interests of the parties as possible to achieve a sustainable resolution.
The authors differ from some other authors is their premise that a conflict can be resolved even if only one party wants to amicably resolve the conflict. They assert if the willing party possesses the necessary tools, then he or she is likely to resolve the conflict. This book is written for people facing conflict, not for mediators. In effect, it tries to teach some of the concepts and tools of dispute resolution that good mediators already have in their “tool kits.” It has chapters on the nature of conflict, how to identify and deal with different personality types and on specific conflict areas, including personal relationships, business partnerships, and workplace disputes.
Although The Tao of Negotiation provides a fun twist on the topic and reinforces some basic principles, it is probably too basic for a mediator. On the other hand, for non-mediators, the book provides a pleasant primer on (1) the benefits of conflict, (2) how to analyze conflict and prepare to address it, and (3) encouragement to press forward to resolve conflicts that arise in everyone’s life. I think the book could be especially useful for young people trying to figure out the world and for peace-loving people who despise and avoid conflict.
© 2013, Jeff Merrick, Merrick Mediation Services