Instead of following a pre-determined agenda, the idea is that attendees propose sessions at the beginning of the day that they are willing to lead and/or facilitate. Several sessions are scheduled simultaneously, and everyone attends those sessions that interest him or her. The mood in the room quickly shifted from apprehension to anticipation as sessions were proposed and 30+ relative strangers collaborated on creating the day’s agenda.
One of the sessions I chose to attend was led by Carly Thornburg of the Thurston County Dispute Resolution Center, and focused on collaborative games. Traditionally, the vast majority of negotiations are competitive; more often than not, we think of conflict as a zero-sum game, where any incremental “win” on one side is matched by a “loss” on the other, and concessions may be perceived as weakness. But in some circumstances, it may be possible to reframe this interaction.
A simple but powerful example: arm wrestling. Participants pair up, place their arms in a standard arm wrestling position, and are instructed that each player’s goal is to maximize his or her points. A point is scored whenever the back of the other person’s hand touches the table. If the game is played competitively, neither player will do very well. However, if the two players collaborate and help each other, they can each score many more points by moving their arms without resistance.
Of course, it is not always this easy to collaborate in real-life situations. Collaboration requires being able to see your negotiating partner’s point of view, building mutual understanding, offering concessions, and trusting that your negotiating partner will reciprocate, rather than taking advantage of your concession. Collaboration does not happen quickly or automatically; it requires work and a genuine willingness to find common ground. When it does happen, however, it can be game-changer.