The negotiation and dispute resolution field pictures itself as having so much to contribute to improving human interactions – relationships, transactions and engaging with conflict.
However – let’s face it:
99% of the population of the planet (a gross under-estimation!) have never taken, and will never take, a negotiation course. They will never buy a negotiation book (and even I buy negotiation books which sit on the shelf unread). They will never read my blog or my Facebook updates. How can the negotiation and dispute resolution field hope to have widespread affect, in a real and meaningful sense? In a nutshell, we need to face the challenge of educating those who are not our students.
This frank acknowledgement of the limitations of our field was not the outcome of a bout of late-night drinking and self-doubt. It was, rather, the conclusion we reached as we were wrapping up a very successful project on improving negotiation teaching – the Rethinking Negotiation Teaching Project which I’ve blogged on previously (and often!). The conclusion was twofold: Thee set of insights into teaching negotiation the Project produced could very well revolutionize how negotiation is taught and practiced – and still, the best we can hope for is some very limited effect, given the limited pool of students who will benefit from it.
Rather than being disheartened, we saw this as a challenge and an opportunity: How can a field inform and influence the thoughts and actions of people not actively seeking the input of the field?
We feel there are many ways, all of which have little to do with conventional negotiation teaching and a lot to do with the way things are learned, assimilated and implemented across society.
In “The Education of Non-Students”, an extremely interdisciplinary team – Chris Honeyman, Eric Blanchot, Rachel Parish, Sanda Kaufman and I set out to begin generating ideas. We chose to explore the notion of disseminating ideas and affecting attitudes and behavior through use of three activities or media: games, theater and film. These, not in the sense of playing a game, watching a film or enacting a scene in class – rather, in the sense of embedding negotiation education within these socially popular outlets hoping that they will allow or encourage people playing, attending and viewing them to consider and perhaps adopt the embedded principles.
Are these the only channels? Certainly not! The world is still waiting for a great mediator novel, and who knows – perhaps one might figure ways to embed principles of the negotiation field in popular sports. However, for starters, combining insights on spreading insights and principles through film, games and theater is a good demonstration of the potential inherent in this kind of thinking – and also poses a real challenge to our field: How can we go beyond the limitations of academia, or those inherent in working individual cases, and affect the lives of millions?