Optimal Collaboration: A Three-Tiered Process

Optimal Collaboration: A Three-Tiered Process

But even when stakeholders possess political will, are equipped with solid negotiation skills, and adopt a cooperative mindset, why do many collaborations still produce results that are inefficient, ineffective, and relationally destructive? Too often, parties suffer from what I call rational myopia, focusing exclusively on joint problem solving while neglecting to tend to the deeper emotional and identity-based concerns affecting the parties and the conflict. They get ‘right down to business’ and discuss how to resolve major substantive issues such as land division or financial allocation—but neglect to attend to relational tensions that can block free-flowing discussion and impede trust, information sharing, camaraderie, and innovation. If we harbor resentment toward a fellow stakeholder, our mind naturally focuses on that sentiment and on how to respond to the perceived injustice. Attention is a limited resource, and grudges and grievances reduce the efficiency of the process, the value of the outcome, and the quality of the relationship.

Reaching Success: The Three Tiers of Collaboration

Optimal collaboration requires us to attend to three levels of human interaction: rationality, emotionality, and identity. By staying aware of these layers, we can address them all to some extent and decide which are most important to focus on during a crisis or other critical moment.

The first tier of collaboration is rationality, in which we draw on logic and systematic analysis to devise solutions to challenges. In short, we rationally problem solve, looking beneath opposing positions for underlying interests from which to invent options for mutual gain (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011; Lax & Sebenius, 1986; Mnookin, Peppet, & Tulumello, 2000). While stakeholders’ positions may be at loggerheads, underlying interests typically are much more compatible. Thus, individuals skilled in interest-based negotiation tend to reach better outcomes than negotiators who use adversarial methods (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011; Schneider, 2002). Additionally, by examining the reasons a stakeholder is politically resistant to collaboration, we can reframe the process to highlight benefits of their participation and drawbacks of their absence.


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About the Author

Daniel ShapiroDaniel Shapiro: Founder and Director, Harvard International Negotiation Program Associate Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School/McLean HospitalAffiliate faculty, Program on Negotiation Daniel Shapiro teaches a highly evaluated course on negotiation at Harvard College; instructs psychology interns at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital; and leads executive education sessions at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital. He also has served on the faculty at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, and at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Named one of the top 15 professors at Harvard University, Shapiro specializes in practice-based research—building theory and testing it in real-world contexts. He has launched successful conflict resolution initiatives in the Middle East, Europe, and East Asia, and for three years chaired the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Conflict Resolution. Focusing extensively on the emotional and identity-based dimensions of negotiation and conflict resolution, Shapiro led the initiative to create the world’s first Global Curriculum on Conflict Management for senior policymakers as well as a conflict management curriculum that now reaches one million youth across more than 20 countries. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the American Psychological Association’s Early Career Award and the Cloke-Millen Peacemaker of the Year Award. In May of 2019, Shapiro was named Harvard’s Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the oldest of the teaching awards given out by the Undergraduate Council.

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