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?


Views: 370

Tags: Negotiation, film, games, movies, pedagogy, teaching, theater


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Comment by Noam Ebner on September 3, 2013 at 1:25am

Thank you for this Bjoren - and, nothing would make me happier than learning that our underlying premise is simply wrong!!!

Of course - huge advances have been made, in many countries around the world. 

However - I wonder if the state of affairs you describe is still in place. In many countries, mediation and particularly mediation training enjoyed a boom period and the fields central concepts were buzzwords. However - as happens with all trends - the trajectory reversed at some point. based on what I know of other countries' experience,  I will bet you a Euro that if you were to revisit those peer mediation programs in schools you would find that half of them don't exist anymore. Of course - I'd be very happy to learn I'm wrong and if so - "studying what's successful" as you suggest is of major importance: the question of what kept the trend going in Germany would be a significant one to explore.

Comment by Bjoern Kunter on September 2, 2013 at 4:57pm

Hm, I think I disagree with your starting point. This was true a few centuries ago, but things have changed since. In 1996 my organisation the federation of social defence (BSV) in Germany launched its training campaign: "1000 people learn to act nonviolent" and gathered a nationwide working group on mediation. Already in 2005 we decided to totally obstain from these kind of activities and left them to the flourishing ADR (business) comunity. A study for Germany from that time already showed that about every third school had implemented some kind of peer mediation program. And while Mediation has not become a Hollywood or Bollywood block buster yet, the idea that violence is a suitable tool to resolve conflicts, is rapidly vanishing. One could see this, even in the foreign policy of the Obama administration. And while there are more and more nonviolent revolutions, the number of military coups has been minimal in the 21st century. The big global change in attitude and action has already begun.

So if one really aims to educate the world one should study what has been successful and not just disregard past successes. Even more one should understand once training course not just as a single action, but see the countless courses that are taking place everyday and every minute and understand that its growth has not been linear, but exponential in the last decades (In 1997 I planned to cover ALL German conflict teaching approaches in my master thesis, but already while I was writing they became countless.) 

This said, I still think your approach is valuable and I want to encourage you to go forward.

Comment by Noam Ebner on August 31, 2013 at 2:44pm

Thank you all!

Comment by Elif Kalan on August 29, 2013 at 4:55am

perfect and very frank acknowledgement! as a practioner on teaching (trying to teach) negotiation and practical implications to young people in Turkey, we have had lots of cases that should be developed and turned into a more interactive, learning by doing approach. I support you NOAM :))

Comment by Potre Dirampatan Diampuan on August 28, 2013 at 11:58am

This is wonderful. Peace, while it is everyone's genuine concern, demands that it must be approached in all aspects of life.... like your idea... Every skill and talent must be used in every doable ways to support peacebuilding. Go forth.... We will be watching how you progress in your chosen initiative.

Comment by Maria Mwale Ntembwa on August 28, 2013 at 9:41am

great idea, lets see how this develops...there is no better time than now to encourage negotiation in peace building from micro levels upto international levels

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