Drop Everything and Read Noam’s Masterpiece Right Now

I generally prefer not to tell people what to do.  So perhaps I should reframe the title of this post to “If You Don’t Read Noam’s Masterpiece Right This Minute, You Will Hate Yourself Forever.”

I refer to Noam Ebner’s article, Negotiation is Changing, which is part of the Tower of Babel symposium.  He has been thinking about the ideas in this piece for quite a while and I’m thrilled that they crystallized in an article in our symposium, where it fit right in.

I predict that it will be considered as a classic in our field.

In the tradition of futures studies (or what Noam would call “change studies”), it develops broad insights derived from a variety of disciplines to analyze trends and anticipate future developments. The first half of the article describes general trends in society and you will undoubtedly recognize yourself and others in this analysis. The second half applies these observations to negotiation.

When I first heard Noam’s premise that negotiation is fundamentally changing, I thought that it was just another one of his crazy ideas. Having read the article, I realize that it is a delight to read with his wonderful voice, but more important, it is brilliant.  It should not only radically change the way you think about dispute resolution, but also generally change how you think about life these days.

Noam offers a fundamental critique of negotiation theory, though it is relevant to all of our DR field and beyond.  Based on an extensive review of how people and their everyday behaviors have changed in recent years, he argues that “people-as-negotiators, and therefore negotiation itself, have also undergone significant change.” Although he focuses primarily on technological changes, he notes that other factors, such as gender, culture, and the environment have been changing rapidly, which may contribute to additional changes in negotiation.  “Once you look for change, it is everywhere.”  He describes how people’s bodies (especially our brains) are physiologically changing, how we are changing our behaviors, how we are being changed by our new behaviors, and how we are interacting in new ways.  He illustrates his thesis by describing changes in behavioral, psychological, and emotional elements of negotiation including attention, communication, empathy, and trust.

He uses these points to show how these elements of the classic book, Getting to Yes, are different than they used to be.  Moreover, the overall effects of these changes may be greater than the sum of the individual changes.  As a result, he argues that the “negotiation field must explore whether its most foundational skills, and the principles it has accepted near-axiomatically for the past fifty years, can remain unaltered, given negotiator change and negotiation change.”  He notes that negotiation scholars and teachers are “prone to the status quo bias, given our vested interest in things staying largely the same, allowing us to use largely the same textbooks and teach the same courses” rather than questioning the validity of our traditional canon of negotiation theory.  He urges us to undertake a new research agenda, considering this canon through “a combination of candid reflection and research replication [and] subject it to tests of relevancy, accuracy and suitability.”

Although I have known Noam for a number of years, I haven’t been aware of how obscenely and creatively productive he has been in a variety of areas.  If you haven’t previously recognized him as a star in our field, you will after you read this article.

So do yourself a favor and read it right now.  You don’t want to hate yourself forever, do you?

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