Optimal Collaboration: A Three-Tiered Process

Optimal Collaboration: A Three-Tiered Process

Dealing with these three tiers of collaboration can help us reach an optimal outcome. These layers are a menu of options from which to decide where we should focus our attention during the interactive process. Consider a metaphor. Firefighters’ lives depend on distinguishing between several classes of fires: If they stream water onto a burning wooden house, the fire will extinguish, but should they do the same on a gasoline blaze, the flames will intensify (Mitrokostas, 2018). Collaboration operates under a similar principle. We must consider what level to focus on–rational, emotional, or identity—in order to put out the fires of destructive conflict and boost the efficiency of our dealings. For example, diplomats who have a constructive working relationship may jump right into rational problem solving, whereas parties who feel offended may be better advised to work through their grievances before doing so. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to offer specific guidance to address each tier of collaboration, my colleagues and I have written several books with that aim in mind (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011; Fisher & Shapiro, 2006; Shapiro, 2017).

In Sum

Resolving the world’s most pressing problems requires collaboration—yet a variety of obstacles stand in the way, including lack of political will, poor negotiation skills, an adversarial mindset, and rational myopia. By attending to the three tiers of collaboration – rationality, emotionality, and identity—stakeholders can overcome these obstacles. At the rational level, we can gain skill in interest-based negotiation and draw on its principles to promote mutual gains and overcome the political will problem. At the emotional level, we can address each other’s core concerns to stimulate positive emotions and combat the adversarial mindset. And at the level of identity, we can appreciate each other’s defining characteristics to embolden joint work, discover mutual gains, and promote ideas that can improve the state of the world.



Fisher, R., & Shapiro, D. (2006). Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate. New York: Penguin Books.
Fisher, R., Ury, W., & Patton, B. (2011). Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. New York: Penguin Books.
Lax, D., & Sebenius, J. (1986). The Manager as Negotiator: Bargaining for Cooperation and Competitive Gain. New York: Free Press.
Mitrokostas, S. (2018, December 13). Retrieved from Insider: https://www.insider.com/types-of-fires-and-how-to-put-them-out-2018-12
Mnookin, R., Peppet, S., & Tulumello, A. (2000). Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Schneider, A. K. (2002). Shattering Negotiation Myths: Empirical Evidence on the Effectiveness of Negotiation Style. Harvard Negotiation Law Review, 7(143), 143-233.
Shapiro, D. L. (2017). Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts. New York: Penguin Books.

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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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