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A Very New Challenge…

Filed under: PON Intern - Sara on Thursday, September 13th, 2007 by PON | Comments Off on A Very New Challenge…

Exactly a week and a day before my last day at PON.  I had to do some pretty intense planning last week to make sure that I’d be able to finish everything that I want to get done before I go back to school. 

One of the projects I’m trying to finish up in the next week or so is writing a new case for the Negotiation Workshop.  It’s one of the most challenging – and coolest – projects I’ve worked on here.  I just regret that I wasn’t able to start the writing process earlier, because overall it’s much more involved than I anticipated. 

The proposed case would involve an agreement between two countries about how to compensate surgeons in one country for operating on patients from the other.  This was a real-life negotiation, which makes things slightly easier, but there are still a tremendous number of questions that I have about how to structure the case.  As fun as it is thinking up storylines and brainstorming about the parties’ interests, after re-reading my initial draft of the confidentials, I found massive holes in terms of information.  It suddenly became clear that I needed to include many more criteria if the situation was going to be realistic.  I’m clearly no expert on the ins and outs of surgery reimbursement.  But neither will be the Negotiation Workshop students who actually engage in the negotiation, so it’s a constant struggle trying to balance technical details and accuracy with the need to make the role comprehensible to non-surgeons.

In a way, this is one of my first tastes of the world of teaching.  I’ve done a little of the stand-in-front-of-the-classroom side of things, but actually writing course materials is truly uncharted territory for me – and it’s hard!  Apart from there being a million things to incorporate (lesson objectives, criteria for an agreement, realistic details, some wittiness and humor would be nice…), the process itself is different than simply writing a report.  It’s less linear.  Instead of the sequential process of doing research and then writing up the roles; it’s more like, first do some research, then start constructing the roles, then go back and fill in the inevitable information holes (which involves more research), then revise the roles, then actually write up the confidential instructions… and finally make sure everything makes sense.  Repeat as necessary.

But this is making it sound like I’m not enjoying it, which is definitely not the case.  It feels almost like a puzzle – you have to get all the details just right in order for the negotiation to work.  Hopefully I’ll solve the puzzle before the end of next week; it’s actually good that I have some sort of a time limit on how much I can work on it, because I have the feeling that it’s one of those projects that I could rapidly become obsessed with perfecting.

Random thought…

Filed under: PON Intern - Sara on Friday, August 31st, 2007 by | Comments Off on Random thought…

Random thought…

…for a Friday afternoon. I’ve been doing some research on an indigenous tribe in Chile and the long-standing dispute they’ve had with the Chilean government since the 16th century. I’m researching with the question in the back of my mind of whether this conflict could be mediated by a third party, but the more I research, the more issues come up that would be relevant to resolving the conflict. Why is this tribe demanding sovereignty? Because their land was taken away by the government. But also because a Chilean power company built dams on their land. And because they feel they’re being economically discriminated against. Also, their tribal leaders are being detained in prison and aren’t given fair trials… the list goes on.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but I suppose that thinking practically about ways to manage this conflict made the enormous, rather daunting nature of the dispute really hit home. Even the cases that we deal with at the mediation firm I’m working at seem multifaceted and overwhelmingly complex; but this international conflict takes that complexity and multiplies it by 100.

But I do have faith in mediation (it might be a little naive, who knows). I’ll be interested to see whether that sort of solution would be viable as I continue researching.

However – there will be time to ponder how to save the world later. For now, happy long weekend!

To negotiate or not to negotiate

Filed under: PON Intern - Sara on Wednesday, August 29th, 2007 by PON | 1 Comment

After a few weeks on vacation, I’m back at PON for about another month. For this entry, I thought I’d depart a little from the usual format and do some thinking about (gulp) politics. But I’ll refrain from taking partisan positions (that’s the plan, anyway).

At the beginning of the month, Barack Obama said something in a press conference relating to negotiation, creating a fairamount of uproar in the process. In response to a question about whether he would meet separately with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea during his first year in office as President, Obama replied, “I would. And the reason is this: that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this Administration, is ridiculous.”

Sounds familiar. It seems like one of the fundamental tenets behind the Program on Negotiation is that talking – to government leaders, business leaders, your friends, whomever – is in fact a viable solution, or at least a logical step, in resolving seemingly intractable conflicts. The vast majority of research that I’ve done here has supported this principle, and it’s something that I personally believe as well.


If Obama is to be taken at face value, and refusing to be in diplomatic contact with adversaries has in fact been a guiding principle of foreign policy for the past eight years, why?

There can’t possibly be no logical reasoning at all behind the “no talking” rule. And whether or not I agree or disagree with current foreign policy, I find it impossible to believe that no one in President Bush’s team of policymakers is an intelligent person. There’s got to be some logic there. So how is it that these two groups of smart people – the shapers of foreign policy and the theorists behind interest-based negotiation – have come to such different conclusions?

It seems like the easy answer is that there are times when you should not talk, times when you should not negotiate with your adversary, and when silence (or other action) is the best option. How to recognize these times is a different story and a much harder question to answer. In fact, disagreement over the threshold between negotiation and a refusal to talk seems to be the major point of variation for the many different viewpoints on this issue.

It might be that the conclusions of this school of foreign policy and interest-based negotiators aren’t that different after all. I’m not sure that any negotiator would say that one should always negotiate in any situation, no matter regardless of circumstances. But I doubt – would hope, at least – that foreign policymakers would also say that there do exist instances when it is “okay” to negotiate with adversaries.

One of the experiences I have with this general issue is in the field of mediation, when a key determination happens early on in the intake process, as the case coordinator decides whether a case is appropriate for mediation. It’s definitely a distinction that I didn’t understand at first, having a lot of faith in mediation as a conflict management strategy – even if there is no agreement, wouldn’t the talking process be of some use to the parties, in some small way? But it soon became clear that there are many instances when mediation is not a good option – many of which center on concerns about rationality (if a party is mentally ill, if for whatever reason they are likely to go back on the agreement, etc.).

Do fears about rationality underlie the positions held by those in the supposed “no talking” school of foreign policy? Do we not negotiate with North Korea because we believe ourselves to be rational and they to be irrational and unpredictable?

I know I said I wouldn’t take political positions, but to be honest, this thought makes me pretty pessimistic about our ability to resolve conflicts with adversaries. A level of mistrust that runs so deep as to question an opponent’s logical stability sounds very hard to displace. It holds up “talking” as a sort of privilege that friendly countries can take advantage of, and that adversaries have to earn, and I’d question whether talking should hold that kind of a role. Even with fear of an adversary’s irrationality in place, the choice of an approach involving a flat-out refusal to talk seems like it is in effect, for lack of a better phrase, letting the fear win.

But like I said, there’s probably not a single negotiator who would always choose dialogue in every instance. So the question remains: when should you not negotiate?

Beyond “Law and Order”

Filed under: PON Intern - Sara on Thursday, August 2nd, 2007 by | 2 Comments

The definition of sociology, my major back at school, is somewhat difficult to pin down.  Seems like a pretty basic thing to know, and yet I’ve always had a hard time figuring out exactly how to word it, despite having been in classes for three years now.  According to the trusty department website, sociology “examines the ways in which the forms of social structure and various social institutions affect human attitudes, actions, and opportunities.”  I have understood sociology in terms of healthcare; in terms of race, gender, and class; in terms of business; in terms of politics.  But for some reason, I never really thought about the sociological aspects of law.

This might just be due to my own romanticized notions about law, stemming from watching way too many episodes of Law and Order’s Ben Stone arguing cases as Assistant DA in the early 90s.  But while I know that laws themselves often result from and bring about societal change, I thought that the practice of lawyers is supposed to be immune from those societal factors.  My understanding is that once the law is set, it is the lawyer’s job to enforce that law, even if outside influences or cultural norms discourage it. 

But even if this is true, it seems that lawyers are still forced to navigate outside influences, pressures that are external to the actual negotiation or court session.  The research that I’m doing on ethics in dispute systems design centers on this exact problem.  How may lawyers who are conducting dispute system design processes face ethical dilemmas?  Where do their role as lawyer and their role as neutral come into conflict?  Should lawyers involved in dispute system design be constrained by the same rules as lawyers acting as advocates? 

Granted, in this case the lawyer’s objective is not to settle a specific case or argue on behalf of a client.  But it is to create a mechanism by which disputes can be resolved, and where perceived wrongdoing may be challenged.  In a dispute systems design situation, the lawyer’s objective is, in the most basic sense, to make a law. 

This means that a lawyer must take stock of the contextual and societal factors inherent in the environment, and their dispute resolution system must strike a balance between accommodation of these norms and objectivity in the face of competing interests.  Not an easy task, especially when you take into account the fact that lawyers are also bound by their own Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which may themselves conflict with a lawyer’s position as neutral dispute systems designer. 

But maybe that’s where law as a discipline is inherently sociological:  while lawyers are bound to enforce the law at all costs when acting as advocates, they are not so constrained when designing dispute resolution systems.  Because disputes arise out of culture, it has to be a lawyer’s job to perform the task of a sociologist:  to examine those “forms of social structure and various social institutions” that are causing conflicts. 

I realize here that I’m really only confirming the stereotype that sociology is a mushy major (“Everything is sociology!”).  But viewing the potential dilemma of lawyers as dispute systems designers in a sociological way could open up a whole new set of questions about the connections between law, neutrality, society, and culture. 

Back again

Filed under: PON Intern - Sara on Wednesday, July 25th, 2007 by | 1 Comment

Having worked for about a month and a half so far this summer, I’m rapidly realizing that my internship experience now could be very different from the one that I had when I was here last winter. I guess I wasn’t prepared for the possibility that (gasp) not all internship experiences are the same. And just as I was challenged in the winter, PON being my first real job, I’m finding myself challenged now by a whole new set of issues that I’ll have to work through this summer.

For one thing, I’m doing two part-time jobs – one at PON and the other as an intern at a mediation organization. This arrangement was partly my attempt to have a chance to do everything that I was interested in this summer – which has been satisfying. And I’m learning a lot from both, which is certainly what I wanted. At the same time, what has been challenging is trying to maintain a sense of continuity throughout both internships. Instead of being able to plan out my time by the week, I have found that planning has to happen both at a daily level (“What can I get done today?”) and a much longer-term level (“How am I going to finish this project in twelve weeks, with only two days per week?”). But being forced into this sort of time management is probably a good thing to have happen, and if I do get the hang of it eventually, it would really help me out in my next big academic project (let’s face it, at this point to me it seems like a downright monolith), my senior thesis.

The different types of work involved in each internship also form an interesting mix. Whereas my work at PON has generally been research- and theory-oriented, I have to use the skills that I am learning at the mediation organization every day. Yesterday, at the mediation job, I caught myself literally remembering a word-for-word phrase from “Getting to Yes” during a conversation with a client. This can’t be a terrible sign (although it does prove that I’m a nerd), but the theory/practice split is still something that has always troubled me since working in this field. It seems like this issue is one that I’ll be thinking about a lot this summer, as I try to internalize the things that I learn at PON while being oriented, ultimately, towards practice.

I’m really excited about the projects that I’ve got going at PON. I’m working on a combination of research projects, creating photo slideshows for the PON website, a writing project, events to plan, and this blog – all of which makes for a nice combination (during one of my first days here, I made the mistake of spending literally the whole day trying to only read articles – by 5pm, my brain was fried, to say the least). My biggest goal is to take an active role in the structure and time allocation of my internship, and to force myself to take initiative in managing and accomplishing all my tasks.

For now, I’m going to try and update this blog at least one or two times a week. Stay tuned for updates and thanks for reading!

The next step

Filed under: PON Intern - Sara on Friday, March 23rd, 2007 by | Comments Off on The next step

It feels a bit surreal on this last day to try and summarize my whole internship experience.   I’m definitely starting to get really sad (although excited to go back to school), and even now, at 3:53 pm, I still half-think that I’ll be back here on Monday.

In looking back at why I wanted to work at PON, I feel like my objectives have been more than met.  I learned so much more about the field of ADR and conflict resolution, and I met some great people who helped introduce me to the types of jobs you can have in this field.  Interning here has definitely opened a door to me in the sense that I finally feel that I have found “my thing,” and now the possibilities are endless.  I think my more concrete, practical goals have been met, as well.  I got over a lot of phobias that I had coming in (talking on the phone?), and my organizational and writing skills were definitely challenged on a daily basis – which was actually a great feeling.  While I don’t think some of my larger fears and weaknesses have been overcome, working here forced me to look these issues in the face, and deal with them constantly, and I believe that there is value in that confrontation. 

I think there’s another thing about this particular internship that, to me, is pretty unique.  It’s very strange to be studying substantive skills (conflict resolution, negotiation, etc.) at the same time as you are actively using those skills in everyday life.  When you learn about negotiation in the abstract, and then you actually have a negotiation in real life about concrete issues, you can very clearly see the difference between your own instincts and the “ideal” way to negotiate.  I vividly remember the day when I had listened to the Negotiation Workshop plenary about difficult conversations, and realized why I had had an argument with someone the previous evening.  The fact that everything (arguably) is a negotiation is also the reason why working in this field, for me, has prompted a lot of self-reflection and self-realization.  I can’t really think of any other field where this is the case, and sometimes that has been really difficult.   I know that I’ll leave my internship here, at the very least, knowing much more about myself.

But in other ways, interning at PON has raised more questions than it has answered.  It has partially answered the “what am I going to do with my life” question.  I know that this is the field for me.  And I’m relieved that I know that.   But… now what?  This feeling reminds me of the movies, when someone opens a door and through the door lays an endless green meadow, a totally different world to explore.  Which direction do you go first?  Do you look down at the green grass or up at the sky?  Should I just shut the door?

Well, I know that I shouldn’t shut the door.  But perhaps the next step is sitting down and asking myself those hard questions.  What is it that I loved about being at PON?  What parts of my personality are good for this field?  And I like to think that this feeling of having endless possibilities open – and even of being slightly lost – is hopefully a good (or at least normal!) feeling. 

But for now, my biggest takeaways today aren’t about jobs, or my future, or anything nearly that stressful.  When I think about my time here, what I feel most is gratitude to the staff and professors at PON.  I can’t even describe how lucky I feel to have met some of the most enthusiastic, perceptive, and genuine people that I ever have.  It has been humbling.  I’m sure that it can’t be easy to accomodate interns, especially when there’s never been one before.  But I really could not have had a better internship experience, and that is thanks to everyone at PON.

Okay – I’m starting to get sad again.  And I don’t want this to be a big goodbye, because I’ll find excuses to come back and visit.  So thanks to everyone who read over the past few months (maybe I’ll update back at Dartmouth!), and, again, to PON. 

Goodbye – for now!

A more complex negotiation

Filed under: PON Intern - Sara on Monday, March 19th, 2007 by | Comments Off on A more complex negotiation

And so begins my final week at PON.  Today’s task is to figure out how I’m going to finish all my tasks in the next five days!  So far things seem pretty tight, but manageable (I hope).  I could write an entry about how time flies, etc., but I think I’ll spare everyone.

One of the highlights of last week was being able to observe the Ames negotiation, a role-play in the Negotiation Workshop.  This role-play was different than previous ones not only because the instructions were about twice as long (there was a lot of objective criteria to be considered) but also because the negotiation involved six people!  The three-person musicians’ committee was meeting with the three-person management team to negotiate the musicians’ contracts for the next couple years. 

As an outsider, the Ames negotiation made clear to me that it is very, very different negotiating as a team than it is negotiating on your own.  On the one hand, you have people to rely on, fall back on, to fill in when you don’t quite know what to say.  In prep, your teammates can be your mini-working group to help you brainstorm strategies and options, and to debrief with you once the negotiation is finished.  But on the other hand, when you’re negotiating on a team, you clearly have to think about not only how you might interact with your opponent(s), but also how your own personality might clash with those of your teammates (and how the other team might have the same problem).  And that can be a whole barrier to a “successful” negotiation in itself. 

Thinking about this difficulty reminded me of something that was covered in the mediation training I attended last month:  what do you do when you disagree with your co-mediator? 

The best answer, it turns out, is to set an example of effective communication.  In other words, a disagreement with a co-mediator could be a valuable opportunity to be transparent about the conflict, and to model a constructive method for resolving disputes.  And I feel like this would work in a negotiation, too.  It might depend on the nature of the dispute; for instance, a disagreement about strategy might warrant a private meeting amongst the teammates.  But wouldn’t it be nice if disagreements were out in the open, and the process of resolving them could actually help move the negotiation along rather than bogging it down?


Looking back, and forward…

Filed under: PON Intern - Sara on Tuesday, March 13th, 2007 by | Comments Off on Looking back, and forward…

So throughout this internship, I’ve been keeping track of my tasks and projects in “weekly reports,” short Word documents that basically describe each week’s work and some things I learned.  Today I was looking back at my very first report, in which one of the things I learned was to “write EVERYTHING down, even things you don’t think you’ll need to remember.”  It struck me how relevant – albeit obvious! – this little piece of advice to myself has been even as I settled in here at PON.  These last couple weeks will be filled with both large substantive projects and administrative tasks, and I continually have to keep reminding myself to actually take five minutes each morning to organize all my tasks on paper.  And it really has to go beyond the basic “to-do” list (although that’s crucial, too), and actually become a schedule for myself so that I remember to cover everything during the day.  I think my brain is probably suited to multitasking, but only if there’s some kind of visual aid that will help me keep track of everything. 

It’s interesting (okay, amusing) how long it’s taken me to not just arrive at this rather basic conclusion, but also to make it a habit.  My planner has always been the essential tool for me in school, but over the past couple years in college, I’ve foolishly tried to rely on my memory to complete assignments.  And I’ve managed, so far – just.  Certainly, organizing your tasks each morning doesn’t increase the number of hours in the day, or lighten the load of responsibilities that you might have.  But it just feels better to take those five minutes, even if the only tangible result is a crossed-off task or a check mark. 

Maybe it just took a few months of having a job for me to realize this – after 20 years of my life!  (This is what I mean about all this being amusing.)  But I guess it’s comforting to hope that when I get back to school, I might be a more organized person – thanks to PON!  I think I mentioned in a previous entry that I thrive on the feeling of almost being overwhelmed – and I still think that’s true.  But feeling in control of one’s life is always a good thing, and I’m sure it’s best in the long run if I adopt the same attitude in my life in college as I have here.  Plus, it would be fun to have little reminders of PON for a few minutes every morning. 

The not-so-distant future

Filed under: PON Intern - Sara on Friday, March 9th, 2007 by | Comments Off on The not-so-distant future

I definitely have been less than perfect in terms of updating this week.  Even as the internship itself winds down, I’m finding that there haven’t been enough hours in the day to get everything done.  This week was also particularly event-packed, which is actually what I wanted to write about today.

After attending Monday’s Career Panel (on careers in international conflict resolution) and Tuesday’s Career Workshop, led by Craig Zelizer, I spent several desperate hours wondering, “what am I going to do with my life?”   It’s not a particularly fun conversation to have with yourself.  But it’s about time that I did some thinking, especially because one of my original goals for my time working at PON was to get more ideas about possible careers in the field of ADR.

And I was forced to do some thinking during Tuesday’s Career Workshop.  The most jarring moment occurred when Craig showed everyone how to do an exercise called Visioning.  In a group of three or four, one person would be asked questions about their future plans, such as, “it’s 10 years from now – what are you doing?”  So in my group, that person was me, and I found the exercise incredibly challenging, in various ways. 

I found it very hard to articulate my plans – not because I don’t have any, but rather because I have never thought about how specifically to word my future goals and dreams.  I haven’t had to write about what I want to be (when I grow up!) since elementary school.  Most of my conversations with my friends on this subject devolve into commiserations about how scary it is that we’ll be graduating from college soon.  The process of having to actually describe my future out loud in the Visioning exercise revealed to me how abstract these ideas still are in my head. 

The other scary thing about this exercise was the format.  It’s one thing to be able to take the time to write out these types of nebulous plans and vague ideas.  But I found that when I was asked questions such as, “what does your business plan look like,” I felt anxious, pressured, and on the spot – and I ended up saying the very first thing that came to mind.  And what I said usually wasn’t what my answer would have been if I’d had more time to think. 

But oddly enough, after hearing myself describe my future, I felt strangely committed to the answers that I gave.  But maybe that was the point of the exercise:  to not only force you to articulate your plans, but also make you more open to options that you hadn’t really considered viable. 

Either way, the Visioning exercise prompted some serious reflection on my part – and probably about time, too.  But for now, I’m going to just go with the flow and continue operating under the illusion that I’m not graduating from college in a year!

On another (sad) note…

Filed under: PON Intern - Sara on Monday, March 5th, 2007 by | 1 Comment

I leave PON and go back to school exactly three weeks from today.  Where did the time go?