World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2010

  • Negotiations: Overcoming the Challenges of Emotions and Culture

    Friday 29th January 2010 - 2:30pm - 4:30pm

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  • Negotiations: Overcoming the Challenges of Emotions and Culture

    Negotiating effectively is key to success in business, government and family life; however, emotional and cultural issues often overwhelm a negotiator's ability to reach a good outcome.

    This highly interactive workshop discussed how emotions and culture influence your negotiations – and what you can do about it.

    Key Points

    • The world is becoming more, not less tribal, as loyalty to the nation state increasingly is replaced by loyalty to religious, cultural or economic affinity groups; these tribal ties are often vested with intense emotion, making it difficult to resolve disputes through negotiation
    • Via a role-playing game, participants created artificial “tribes”, each with its own value system, religion and stands on political issues such as climate change, then sought to negotiate a merger under one banner through structured negotiations
    • Although the tribes shared many common values such as pluralism, tolerance and environmental consciousness, they ultimately failed to unite – despite the presence of an external enemy in the form of a hypothetical intergalactic alien who threatened to destroy the world unless they resolved their differences
    • The exercise vividly demonstrated the power of group loyalty (even to completely artificial affiliations); it also illustrated many of the self-defeating emotional dynamics often found in real world negotiations, such as irrational stubbornness, resentment, and a tendency to exaggerate, not minimize, differences in the negotiation process


    The discussion began with a real-world example of a seemingly trivial conflict that threatened to escalate into global war: a 1976 showdown between North and South Korean forces that began as a dispute over the right to trim the branches of a tree in the demilitarized zone between the two countries. It eventually led to an exchange of fire, the beheading of several US soldiers, and a Cold War confrontation that briefly threatened to trigger World War III.

    Such incidents highlight the way that emotional reactions can lead to destructive and self-destructive behaviours, both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. To explore these issues in depth, participants were divided into “tribes”, each of which was tasked with answering questions about their core values and beliefs – such as a flag, a common religion, their positions on hot-button social issues such as abortion and the death penalty, and their willingness to compromise with other tribes to solve collective problems such as climate change.

    Each tribe was then asked to present its beliefs. However, before they could begin, a green-headed space monster burst into the room and announced to the startled participants that he would destroy the world unless all of the tribes agreed to unite under a common banner.

    Following this unexpected interruption, each tribe was instructed to choose a delegate to represent the group in a three-round negotiating process, designed to create a common tribe that would prevent world destruction. However, instead of attempting to negotiate a common set of belief systems and political positions for a new tribe, the delegates spent the three rounds attempting to persuade the other tribes to join their tribe – a task that proved impossible, given the tight deadlines and the fact that each delegate appeared anxious to assure fellow tribal members that they were aggressively representing their interests. The fact that some tribes changed negotiators between rounds did not help matters.

    Participants ultimately concluded they had erred by treating the negotiations as an election instead of a bargaining process aimed at reaching a workable compromise. Interestingly, the most controversial issue appeared to be religion, with one tribe accusing another tribe of denigrating its faith.

    Participants were asked to reflect on a number of interrelated questions about the experience. Did they feel their own views were heard and understood by fellow tribal members? Did they feel they had the autonomy to make decisions, or were those decisions forced on them? Did they feel their status was enhanced or demeaned by the negotiating process? Understanding and managing these complex emotional perspectives may be as important to future dispute resolution as reconciling competing material or ideological interests.

    Discussion Leaders

    Louise Arbour

    , President and Chief Executive Officer, International Crisis Group (ICG), Belgium; Global Agenda Council on Negotiation & Conflict Resolution

    Jean-Pierre Lehmann

    , Professor of International Political Economy, Institute for Management Development International (IMD), Switzerland; Global Agenda Council on the Future of China

    William T. Loris

    , Director-General, International Development Law Organization, Italy; Global Agenda Council on Corruption

    Zainab Salbi

    , Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Women for Women International, USA; Young Global Leader; Global Agenda Council on Faith

    Yossi Vardi

    , Chairman, International Technologies Ventures, Israel; Global Agenda Council on the Future of the Internet

    Facilitated by

    Daniel Shapiro

    , Founder and Director, Harvard International Negotiation Program, Harvard Law School, USA; Young Global Leader; Global Agenda Council on Negotiation & Conflict Resolution

    This summary was prepared by William Montague. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum.

    Copyright 2010 World Economic Forum
    No part of this material may be copied, photocopied or duplicated in any form by any means or redistributed without the prior written consent of the World Economic Forum.

    Friday 29 January

    Keywords: negotiations, dispute resolution, diplomacy, collective bargaining

    Recommended reading for: CEOs, Social Entrepreneurs, Civil Society Leaders, Non-Governmental Organizations; members of the Global Advisory Councils on Values and Negotiation & Conflict Resolution

Facilitated by

  • Daniel Shapiro Daniel Shapiro
    Founder and Director, Harvard International Negotiation Program, Harvard University, USA

    PhD. Founder and Director, Harvard International Negotiation Program and Associate Director, Harvard...


  • Yossi Vardi Yossi Vardi
    Chairman, International Technologies Ventures, Israel

    Doctorate in Operation Research, Technion. Over 40 years' experience co-founding, leading and helpin...

  • Louise Arbour Louise Arbour

  • Zainab Salbi Zainab Salbi
    Founder, Women for Women International, USA

    Zainab Salbi is the Founder of Women for Women International, an organization that works with women ...

  • William T. Loris William T. Loris

  • Jean-Pierre Lehmann Jean-Pierre Lehmann
    Professor Emeritus of International Political Economy, Institute for Management Development International (IMD), Switzerland

    1966, BSc in Int'l Affairs, Georgetown; 1970, PhD in Japanese Economic History, Oxford. Formerly, re...