When you negotiate an agreement with someone with whom you’ve been in conflict, it may feel like the finish point. Settled, resolved, end of story.
Actually, it’s the start of a new story, as author and creative-thinking expert Michael Michalko beautifully points out in the following story. Michael’s the mind behind Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (affiliate link) and this story originally appeared on his Amazon blog. He’s graciously given me permission to reprint it here.
A Franciscan monk who was a speaker at an international seminar about world peace, was asked if successful negotiations between Israel and Palestine were possible. He called two young people up to the microphone: a Palestinian young man and a Jewish Israeli young man. “Imagine you are brothers,” he told them. “Your father has passed away, and he has left you an inheritance with three assets,” represented symbolically by three coins, which he placed on the podium.
“Your instructions are that you must share the inheritance fairly but you cannot split any of the assets,” the boys were told. “Now you must try to find a creative solution that will get you the maximum possible benefit.” When the Palestinian said he would take two coins and give the Israeli one, everyone laughed again and the monk said, “Well, okay, you have the power to do that, but you are sowing the seeds of conflict.” The Israeli said he was actually thinking of taking one coin and giving the Palestinian two. “Evidently,” the monk guessed, “you feel it’s worth the risk of investing in your adversary in this way, and hope to somehow benefit in the future from this.” The boys sat down.
Next, the monk asked two young women (again one was Israeli, the other Palestinian) to repeat the exercise. It was fairly clear where the monk was going with this, but would the girls get it? “I would keep one coin and give her two,” said the Israeli young woman, “on condition that she donate her second one to a charity, maybe a children’s hospital.” “Good,” said the monk and asked the Palestinian woman if she agreed. She said “I would keep one for myself, and give one to her, and say that we should invest the third one together.” The entire audience stood and applauded for the final solution.
Negotiating is not a game, and it’s not a war, it’s what civilized people do to iron out their differences. There is no point, the monk said, in figuring out how to get the other side to sign something they cannot live with. A negotiated settlement today is not the end of the story, because “there is always the day after,” and a good negotiator should be thinking about the day after, and the day after that.
And since some of you who read Conflict Zen® are fellow mediators and conflict coaches, I’d add that good mediators should be thinking about the day after, too. I tell my mediation students this: The point is not to “get them to settlement.” The point is to help them find agreements they want to honor for the long run. That’s the real artistry of good mediation.