Chris said it would be horrible, and also that we would learn a lot. Then he asked for volunteers.
My hand immediately shot into the air.
I am no stranger to the world of challenge. Earlier in my professional life, I worked for Jack Valenti, legendary lobbyist for the entertainment industry, through the post-Columbine federal investigation of movie marketing practices and the hacker hostility generated by legal opposition to Napster and other early peer-to-peer networks. Later, I united a continuing series of newly acquired software startups under the brand banner of a staid, century old legal services company based on common target audience values. Personally, I have rehabilitated an arthritic hip through yoga, written two books, and walked a 400-mile pilgrimage on said holistically-healed hip.
But nothing prepared me for the cold bluntness of the words from the man with whom I was supposed to negotiate. Or the responsibility that came with the scenario I was to role play.
Sixty seconds, a car, or she dies.
I was against a wall, and someone would die if I did not say the right things. I kept the exchange going for 2 minutes 23 seconds. I did many things right, I was told. I wanted to learn what I could have done better.
I came away from the exercise with a deep respect for the skill and centeredness it takes to deal effectively in such a high stakes negotiation. And a deep appreciation for the tactics that can facilitate a positive resolution.
This was my most visceral experience of the exceptionally valuable three days of meetings during the Thunderbird/Harvard Global Summit on Negotiation and Trust. During the course of the program, we heard from expert speakers covering all aspects of behavioral change, forgiveness, cross cultural communication, conflict resolution, persuasion, trust building and lie detection. And how to practically apply the theory that was taught.
The Global Summit was a trust builder for me personally. When I left the corporate world in 2009, giving away all my belongings and moving to Costa Rica to train as a yoga teacher, I was disillusioned with the leadership being demonstrated in the political and corporate worlds. I saw how the tactics that I had built a career developing and implementing being used unethically, with a lack of integrity and little consideration for human value.
As Stephen M.R. Covey so eloquently stated during his presentation, “Competence without character is like a tree without roots.”
My own education in and practice of the science of yoga provided the foundation for developing and maintaining that character which grounds and centers competence. Over the past five years, my energy has been focused on helping people negotiate challenging transitions, shifting negative behavioral patterns (induced by stress, trauma, depression, addiction) into more positive, life-supporting ones. A more centered person makes more competent decisions, which impacts both their personal and professional relationships and effectiveness.
The Global Summit last weekend, along with my current research in mindfulness and leadership development, have demonstrated how far the business world has come. I see a marked shift away from the previously predominant “Machiavellian” approach of I win/you lose, to a strategy where all parties can benefit. The value of people, of acting with integrity and authenticity, and of social responsibility are leading business strategy today, replacing the greed, excess and lack of ethics that I had found so disillusioning just five years ago.
The Thunderbird and Harvard communities are leading the way in making this a majority viewpoint, by educating at both the university and executive levels. The principles they are teaching are in congruence with a more universal code of ethics synthesized from my study of experts in eastern philosophy, spirituality and other wisdom traditions. They are simple languaged to a broader world and business context here.
Yes, there is still a lot wrong in the corporate world, and many miles to go. While glaring examples such as the Nestlé controversy around water rights and the global impact of Monsanto´s GMOs continue to highlight what is wrong, there are also great strides that have taken place in corporate social responsibility. There are good people at the helm, leading the charge for responsible change in education, public policy, business and community-based organizations.
Many thanks to all of the speakers for sharing their expertise and tactics during the weekend, and for sparking the creative ideas that are flowing from it professionally.
And, personally, I am grateful to Chris Voss of The Black Swan Group for demonstrating so effectively how the right tools, in ethical hands, have the potential to save a life.