12 Takeaways from ‘The Tao of Negotiation’

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Reminders about conflict and life so essential that

I review them frequently

There are a few books with messages so essential and powerful that I return to them every few years to remind myself of their contents. One of these is The Tao of Negotiation* by master mediator Joel Edelman and co-author Mary Beth Crain (Harper Paperbacks, 1994), now out of print so available at Amazon for pennies plus the cost of shipping.

Taosim is a philosophical tradition of ancient Chinese origin dealing with how humans can best live, accept themselves, and align with the natural forces of the universe. Tao (pronounced dow) is often translated as way or path. Interesting for those considering the tao of conflict resolution is that Taoism often finds that one’s own troubles are just the place to start any personal journey and may in fact be the stuff of one’s path. While I’m not advocating this tao, that tao, the Tao, or Taoism as a complete approach to anything, as life goes on I find its insights indispensable to satisfying outcomes and optimal understanding.


Here are some of the top lessons I took away from the most recent reading:

1. “…the Tao is concerned with ‘personal cause and effect.’” Rather than examining broader forces like the political or economic climate, the tao of negotiation indicates we investigate what it is about ourselves that is creating our sense of conflict.

2. “Attitude and intention, are to the Tao, the most powerful tools of human existence.” If we want to understand where we’re at or change where we’re at, a review and/or adjustment of our attitude/s and intention/s is the first, best place to start.

3. “…[take] control of one’s life by first taking responsibility for it.” Accepting responsibility is the first step towards determining our own life, its conditions, and its direction.

4. “Instead of blaming someone else, or expecting a battle, we study the situation, exploring our own intentions and actions.” We can de-escalate tensions by not presuming a fight or pointing fingers, but by stepping back and looking at ourselves. Once we are clear about our own interests, perceptions, and behavior we can better engage the situation.

5. “A dispute isn’t a dispute until it’s a dispute.” Don’t bring about a conflict by expecting one, naming one in advance, or presuming it’s a foregone conclusion. Instead, use your imagination to concoct harmonious solutions or to take you down an ideal path rather than hasten an “inevitable” problem.

6. “…while a conflict may involve two or more people, it often only takes one person to resolve that conflict, or to prevent it from occurring altogether.” It takes one person — me, if I so choose — to walk away from a conflict or alter its course by changing my attitudes and behaviors and creating better alternatives.

7. “…accept where you’re at. Embrace your errors as guideposts….Because in accepting ourselves and admitting our frailty, we take the first step to overcoming the fear of honesty that is at the heart of most disputes.” Being honest about our reality, including weaknesses and oversights, anchors us in the best place from which to deal with others and with the challenge at hand.

8. “…options always exist….As soon as any statement comes down in the form of ‘I have no choice but to…’ you know it’s either a lie or a manipulation. Because there are always choices, options in every situation. And if they aren’t immediately evident, we can create them.” Thinking there are no choices is a stuck place and a false place, so the first thing to do is to realize it. From that awareness, we can begin devising our way out of a quagmire.

9. “Do you actually want to…resolve the situation calmly and in a way that’s mutually beneficial to both parties? Or do you just want to continue to feel upset and angry?” We can work for an elegant win-win solution, we can bulldoze our way to the consequence of our liking, we can give up as victims, we can wallow in mucky feelings a bit longer, or we can x, y, z. It’s just best to know what we actually want to do and why we’re doing it.

10. “Whatever you avoid, disown, or are unwilling to deal with is going, sooner or later, to run your life.” We can’t run from conflict or it will run us. Accept what it is, who we are, where we’re at, and create with intention and a different attitude what’s next and what’s better.

11. “Another aspect of skillful communication is the technique of making statements rather than asking questions in order to get the most useful response from the other person….The most effective way to elicit information from someone else is first to share information yourself….sharing what it is that you want and, in terms of feedback, why you want it, what you’re going to do with it and what benefit it might be to the other person if they give it to you.” Our communications are often about our own agenda, which is fine, but some tools and methods are better than others when it comes to resolving conflicts and building/rebuilding relationships. Using open questioning (along with active listening), information sharing, and statement-making rather than a line of questioning that guides the other to our own conclusions helps.

12. “…if you follow one, and only one, rule in business, you can throw out everything [else]….That rule is simply this: ‘Deal with an honest [person].’” Self-explanatory! And, consider the corollary: Be that honest person.

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